It's a phrase which dates back to medieval times when people accused of witchcraft were forced into a large cauldron of boiling water, and if they survived they were deemed to be innocent due to divine intervention.

But when a judge warned jurors they would be ''in hot water'' if they researched details of a robbery trial, the olde English term bamboozled a top German academic who was sat on the jury.

Prof Miklas Scholz, 45, a director of the Civil Engineering Research Centre at the University of Salford, near Manchester did not understand what Judge Mukhtar Hussain QC was talking about - and assumed he might have been referring to REAL water.

During the trial of the accused, Prof Scholz put the name of the suspect's accomplice in Google and discovered he had a previous conviction and relayed the information to another juror on the second day of the trial. The other juror alerted court staff and the trial collapsed.

At Burnley Crown Court, Lancs, Prof Scholz who comes from Flensburg and who has published two books and 135 journal papers about subjects including drainage, biological filtration, water quality, storm water management and wastewater treatment was fined £1,250 for contempt and got a dressing down from the judge who warned him he could have faced up to two years jail.

But the academic a father of four who moved to the UK in 1994 later spoke to Cavendish Press and said: “I just did not understand what the phrase ‘in hot water’ meant in this context. Obviously I understand the phrase in boiling hot water in scientific terms but I wouldn’t use those words to describe being in trouble. It just seems meaningless.

''I have written many journals so I am used to writing in proper English and proper sentences and wouldn’t use words and phrases like being in hot water to describe being in trouble because it is not correct. They don’t mean anything, definitely not in the context of looking on the internet.

''I can imagine what it means now but it is something I wouldn’t use. It’s not scientific. You would say someone is ‘in trouble’ and the judge should have said that.''

In court Judge Hussain told Prof Scholz he had the power to refer the case to the Attorney General and said his actions represented a ''serious waste of public money.'' The accused defendant in the trial will now face a retrial next year. Two others are awaiting sentence, after admitting to their parts in the hold-up.

Cavendish Press's coverage of the case went in the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and The Times. If you have a story please contact us on 0161 237 1066 or email [email protected]

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