Miscarriages of JusticeUK (MOJUK) News Service
The families of two inmates protesting their innocence of a drug smuggling conspiracy were alarmed to be given just 28 days to settle legal aid bills of tens of thousands of pounds or potentially lose their homes. Sent just before Christmas by Rossendales, the government’s debt collector, the demands said failure to pay on time lead to enforcement action. In the case of fishing boat skipper Jamie Green, whose wife Nikki died of cancer after he was jailed in 2011, that could have put two of his children who live in the house on the streets. In Jonathan Beere’s case, it would have uprooted his wife Sue and two of their three children.
Private Eye/MOJUK readers may recall Green and a crew of three were said to have sailed from the Isle of Wight into the English Channel to pick up cocaine worth £53m dropped overboard from a Brazilian container ship. (Family friend Beere was arrested later.) The five were jailed for between 14 and 24 years. But among many other irregularities in the case, there was no evidence the drugs were ever on board either boat; police officers who had given the only direct evidence against the men changed their accounts; logs and records were lost or redacted; and notes and statements were put together two days after the events. There was evidence that stormy conditions would have made it almost impossible to haul the drugs from the sea. The men were all convicted by a majority verdict. Their families have been caught in the fallout because, since 2009, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) can demand repayment of all or some of the legal aid spent on a person’s trial defence and that includes any partner’s income or share in a property.
After months of worry, and thanks to pro bono work by London firm WilmerHale, the LAA has stated that it does not intend to pursue an action for forced sale, but instead will apply for a charge to be placed on the families’ homes for when they are eventually sold. In the case of Jamie Green, it has accepted that his available capital should be halved, taking into account the fact that his wife had left her share of the family home to their son.
But what happens to families suddenly confronted with huge debts and not lucky enough to find free lawyers? The LAA says it “has never enforced an order for the sale of a convicted person’s house when there are partners and children living there”. But that raises the question of whether some sell their homes voluntarily to pay the debt after receiving Rossendales notices.
Since the Eye’s last report, the men’s case has been taken up by Emily Bolton, of legal charity the Centre for Criminal Appeals, who has put a dossier of new material before the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). It includes expert re-analysis of the tracking data for both the fishing boat, the Ga/wad Y Mar, and the container vessel, the Oriane. A vital part of the prosecution case was that the fishing vessel crossed the wake of the larger ship, enabling crew to pick up the drugs. (Eye readers may remember Green telling the Eye: “If really had been engaged on a drugs operation, would I have left the machine on to record the evidence?”)
The new data showed that at their closest the two boats were more than 174 metres apart; that the fishing boat never crossed the wake of the Oriane; and that sea conditions were such that the drugs would have drifted away from the trawler, not towards it. Further, police officers accused of changing their evidence and notes have since been accused of similar behaviour in another case – a pattern of conduct which prompted a judge in that case to grant leave to appeal.
So far it seems the CCRC is not prepared to send the fishermen’s case to the appeal court. That, says Bolton, is unfathomable: “It’s obvious – the jury should have heard that the tracks of the two vessels did not cross. The jury did not. Therefore, the court of appeal should be given the opportunity to hear the evidence and make the final decision about the safety of the convictions.” Watch this space.
Reprinted from Private Eye 30/05/2017
Justice for, Jamie, Jon, Zoran, Dan and Scott