Sunday, December 20, 2015

UK: Jailed 'Cocaine Crew' CAN'T be guilty

Lobsterman Jamie Green gave the eulogy at his wife Nikki’s funeral ten days ago – handcuffed to a prison officer, with two more guards hovering in the background. The crematorium chapel at Newport on the Isle of Wight was packed to bursting with Green’s family, friends and local Channel fishermen, a gruff, sea-hardened bunch, not generally given to public displays of emotion.

Almost all of them were openly weeping. It wasn’t just that Nikki, a much-loved mother of three, died from cancer far too young, aged only 50. It was that everyone present was convinced that Jamie and his crewmen, convicted and jailed for between 14 and 24 years for a plot to smuggle cocaine worth £53 million, are innocent.

Almost two years ago, The Mail on Sunday disclosed grave doubts about the prosecution case at Green’s trial, which alleged that Green’s lobster boat, the Galwad-y-Mor, picked up 11 sports bags containing a total of 560lb of cocaine tossed from the deck of a passing Brazilian container ship.

Now, following months of further investigation, we can present overwhelming new evidence that the events described at the month-long hearing at Kingston Crown Court in 2011 simply never happened.

The MoS investigation has been conducted jointly with the Centre for Criminal Appeals, a new legal charity which specialises in representing victims of miscarriages of justice. It has revealed that:

    Electronic navigation records show Green’s boat was never where the prosecution claimed it was – cruising in the wake of the container ship Oriane in the Channel, to collect drugs thrown overboard

    Analysis by a marine drift expert shows that currents would have carried the drugs, packed in floating holdalls, away from Green’s boat

    A drugs investigator who spent 41 years with Customs and Excise and Soca (the Serious Organised Crime Agency, that led the investigation into the alleged smugglers) found that observation records used to incriminate Green and his co-defendants appear to have been fabricated.

    The Brazilian ship was not in the South American port on the day when the smuggling plot was allegedly hatched at a meeting of local conspirators and members of its crew.

A dossier setting out this evidence is now being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which is set to rule on whether to grant a fresh appeal next year. Tragically, its decision will come too late for Nikki. Her husband was allowed one visit to her deathbed in a hospice, for which he was shackled. Heartbreakingly, a second visit that would have been their farewell was cancelled.

To the Isle of Wight community, the case always seemed baffling. Green and his co-defendants – his lifelong friend Jonathan Beere, and deckhands Danny Payne and Scott Birtwistle – had no criminal history. They were all staunch family men, with modest lifestyles.

Nikki, to whom Jamie was devoted, was already seriously ill: her cancer had spread from her breast to her liver and she was having chemotherapy. Beere – supposedly the plot’s onshore co-ordinator – was a local scaffolder, married to a teacher for children with special needs: the couple had three young children.

However, the evidence persuaded the jury, which reached a majority verdict. Green, Beere and casual labourer Zoran Dresic were sentenced to 24 years; Payne and Birtwistle were given 18 and 14 years respectively. The Soca detectives heralded the result a triumph. According to the prosecution, Green and his crew, Dresic, Payne and Birtwistle, took the 39ft Galwad-y-Mor to the middle of the Channel on the stormy night of May 29, 2010, not to collect lobster pots, but the cocaine-packed sports bags tossed from the Oriane.

The prosecution claimed that the records from the Galwad-y-Mor’s electronic navigation system showed that, for a period of about two minutes, she slowly motored back and forth in Oriane’s wake. Somehow, lashed by 20ft waves and buffeted by a Force 8 gale, the Galwad’s crew had spent this time collecting the drugs bags from the water. This, say other Wight fishermen, would have been an extraordinary feat in the calmest of seas in broad daylight.

For most of the next day, the jury was told, Green and his crew went back to looking for crabs and lobsters. Then, many hours later, they headed towards the shallower waters of Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. Two Hampshire policemen had been stationed by Soca at the top of the towering cliffs overlooking the Bay. They said they saw the bags being jettisoned back into the water – presumably being left for someone to retrieve.

The officers reported this by radio, but then left their look-out post, leaving the bags unattended. The bags, tied together with rope and fixed to the sea bed with a pig-iron anchor, were found there next morning by another local fisherman.

There was no evidence that drugs were ever on board the fishing boat. Soca’s high-tech equipment could not detect a single cocaine molecule anywhere on the Galwad, although the bags leaked so that whole packets of cocaine were damp and salty by the time they were found.

The claim that the Galwad crossed the wake of the Oriane was critical. Determined to produce the most accurate chart of the two vessels’ movements, this newspaper obtained all the raw data from the Oriane’s AIS satellite tracking system from a specialist Dutch company. Recently, it has emerged that the prosecution expert had his own copy of this information before the trial – but it was not disclosed to the defence. With this data at hand, it was possible to see that a crucial ‘mark’ for the Oriane – a record of its position when it was almost at its closest to the Galwad-y-Mor – was, unaccountably, omitted from the chart the prosecution showed the jury.

Emily Bolton, Green’s solicitor from the Centre for Criminal Appeals, engaged an expert to compare the AIS records with those of the Olex tracking system on the Galwad.

The conclusions reached by the expert, Dr James Allen, technical director of Precision Marine Survey Ltd, are devastating.

Rather than crossing the Oriane’s wake, the closest the Galwad-y-Mor got to the wake was about 170ft. And at the brief instant the Galwad was in this position, the Oriane was more than a mile and a half away.

Could the bags have drifted from the ship towards Green’s boat?
Brazilian container ship the Oriane, which the cocaine-packed sports bags were allegedly tossed from

Not according to another team of experts, from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Their report says that on the night in question, at the relevant point in the Channel, anything thrown from the Oriane would have drifted east-north-east – away from the course plotted by the Galwad-y-Mor.

The AIS data contains a further bombshell. According to the Crown, plotters based in Brazil met members of the Oriane crew and figured out how to get the drugs on board when the ship docked at the port of Navegantes.

In fact, the data shows the Oriane was not there at all on the date in question.

And there is still further fresh evidence. After the trial, doubts began to emerge about the observations made by the two Hampshire policemen posted on the hill over the bay, and their assertion that they saw the Galwad crew throwing the drugs bags overboard.  Their story had kept on changing, and an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found it contained significant ‘discrepancies’.

The MoS approached drugs investigator Don Dewar to review all the evidence. Recently retired, Dewar won awards and commendations, during a long career in charge of some of the biggest drug cases in British history, first with Customs and Excise, then with Soca. He was in charge of the seizure of what, until last year, was the UK’s record cocaine haul: a ton found sealed inside lead ingots in 1990. He also led the UK-end of the transatlantic operation that saw the arrest of the cannabis smuggler turned writer, Howard Marks.

Dewar has analysed the case thoroughly. In a statement included in the CCRC dossier, he says that some crucial observation records were not set down in the usual, tightly controlled and monitored official Soca logs, but in a Marathon Products logbook that was not Soca issue.

Damningly, crucial observations were recorded out of sequence – suggesting they were tampered with or fabricated. For instance, according to the records, the Galwad docked at a jetty before she entered her home port at Yarmouth harbour – an obvious impossibility.

Dewar’s statement also points to crucial, unexplained gaps in the documents Soca provided to the defence – including 21 pages of the ‘Surveillance Management Record’, which should have contained a detailed account of the movements and observations of all officers deployed on the island that day.

Green and the others have already lost one appeal, in 2012. At that stage, none of the fresh evidence had come to light.

But a member of the jury wrote to Green’s trial defence lawyer, Julian Christopher QC. He said that Soca officers had discussed the case with a fellow juror at a health club, making allegations that were never aired in court, and urging the jury to convict.

Another juror knew a former police community support officer who sat in the public gallery throughout the trial, and was thus privy to legal argument which took place when the jury was absent.

Usually, evidence of this kind would persuade the Appeal Court to order a retrial, but in this case, it declined. That left the CCRC as the only recourse.

Bolton submitted a preliminary dossier in October last year. In February the commission appointed a ‘case review manager’ to oversee its inquiries. Bolton filed further evidence in March and November.

As Nikki Green’s condition deteriorated, her husband, who is being held at Erlestoke prison in Wiltshire, was granted one brief visit, which he spent cuffed to an officer. When Nikki developed an infection, doctors warned she was unlikely to survive more than days. Jamie was told he would be taken to see her again on November 8. But as he was getting ready in his cell, the trip was suddenly cancelled. Nikki died on November 30.

Bolton said: ‘Nikki died without her husband at her side because the CCRC has not been given enough funding to be able to identify miscarriages of justice promptly.

‘We have presented enough evidence to convince the Court of Appeal to reverse these convictions, but the Commission does not have the resources it needs to process this evidence swiftly.

‘Last Thursday’s service wasn’t just a funeral for Nikki, but for British justice.’

Green’s sister, Nicky, said the family felt ‘betrayed’, adding: ‘Not only did the system make a terrible mistake in charging my brother with this crime, the process of correcting it has been drawn out for so long that Jamie has been robbed of his brave, courageous wife and his right to a family life.’

According to a CCRC spokesman, it currently receives nearly 1,500 applications a year, which creates a huge backlog. Normally, he said, a prisoner would have to wait six months before a Commission inquiry could even begin, and for Green, this had indeed been ‘expedited’. But he added: ‘Once it starts, it takes as long as it takes, and this is a complex case.’

The best that Green and his co-defendants can hope for is that the CCRC will refer them back to the Court of Appeal next year. After that, it is likely to take many months before their case is reheard.

The guilty verdicts that have ruined their lives and those of their families may be overturned some time in 2017. By then they will have spent seven years behind bars.

Original report here

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