Subsequently, as a result of this discovery, five men were convicted of conspiracy to import drugs: they were Jamie Green, the owner of a fishing vessel, the Galwad Y Mor; his three crew, Dan Payne Scott Birtwistle and Zoran Dresic; and Jon Beere, who ran a successful scaffolding business on the Island.
‘What you must not do’, His Honour Judge Dodgson had told the jury, ‘is speculate… it is vital to remember that speculation is not part of the process.’
In fact, the jury had no alternative but to speculate because the prosecution case was based almost entirely on speculation.
The Crown theorised that at around midnight a consignment of drugs packages was dropped from a container ship, the Oriane, into the middle of the English Channel; that these packages were then picked up by Jamie Green in the Galwad Y Mor; and that he then took them to the Isle of Wight and dropped them so that they could be picked up again.
So, considering the elements of the theory chronologically: there is no evidence that drugs were dropped from the Oriane at that time (or, indeed, at any other time); there is no evidence that there were any drugs were ever taken on to or unloaded from the Galwad Y Mor (though here there is an asterisk that I’ll come to); and there is no evidence that anyone was going to come along to pick the drugs up from where they were found.
The Oriane had begun its long voyage in Brazil, but not only is there no evidence that it was carrying drugs, but the UK authorities appear to have had no interest in it whatever. It apparently continued on its charted course without being hindered by police inspections.
If a scheme such as the one hazarded by the prosecution had been attempted, it is unlikely that a craft like the Galwad Y Mor would have been chosen for the purpose since it was high-sided and had poor visibility.
The vessel was fitted with an Olex navigational aid that tracked and recorded its movements. It is unlikely that any actual drug-running ship would have made carried such a system, because it provided an accurate record of exactly where it had been. On this occasion, the record showed that, had drugs been dropped from the Oriane into the sea, then the crew on board the Galwad Y Mor would have had roughly three minutes in which to recover them. Three minutes? In swirling seas in the English Channel in the middle of the night? This is a fantasy.
Nor would the ship have been able to get to the position where the drugs were found; the Galwad Y Mor would not have been able to navigate that close to the rocky shoreline.
At every point, the Crown’s speculative theory fails.
As ever, the more straightforward explanation is the more plausible: someone panicked and dumped the drugs, which then got snagged on the fisherman’s line. No one knows where or when they were dumped, though it is likely to have been outside the time period envisaged by the prosecution, because there was some seepage into the drugs packages, and smugglers these days are generally efficient at waterproofing their consignments.
So how were the men convicted at all? Well, there is that asterisk.
A drugs surveillance operation was being conducted at the time. Two Hampshire police officers were, with one pair of binoculars between them, monitoring the coastline. They saw the Galwad Y Mor and said that six or seven objects were dropped from the rear.
There is no argument about this; a few black bin-bags of rubbish were jettisoned as the boat was heading back into port. Further, this seemed to be the contemporaneous impression of the two officers, because what they had seen in no way aroused their suspicions.
At the time, they didn’t do anything; they made no attempt to record what they saw, they didn’t use the camera or video functions on their phone or take a GPS position. They contacted no one either at Hampshire police or at SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, who had overall control of the surveillance.
In fact, having reached the end of their shift, they simply ceased their observations and went off duty. They returned to their hotel and, the following morning, set out for the ferry terminal.
By then, the drugs had been discovered. So SOCA told the Hampshire officers not to leave the island. They were kept waiting for a couple of hours while there was a SOCA debrief. Afterwards, the officers themselves were debriefed in the back of a SOCA officer’s car. At this point, they made statements that conflicted with their original impressions but which chimed with the circumstances as the officers now knew them to be. So, for example, the half-a-dozen objects of the night before became ‘ten or twelve’.
His Honour Judge Dodgson, however, was bewildered by all this. He was struck by the unlikelihood of the officers having seen what they now said they saw, but having reacted as nonchalantly as they did.
‘Members of the jury’, he said, ‘one might think that if you were an officer on a cliff seeing ten to twelve packages being deposited in that way, you would tell someone about it. But… nothing, it seems, excited [the officers’ ] interest.
‘If these officers, knowing that they are involved in an operation to detect drug smugglers, see what they have seen [and] are prepared to leave the island – it does seem extraordinary, does it not?’
There is a further problem with the officers’ changed statements. It seems unlikely that they could have witnessed what they said they saw from where they were positioned.
The judge expressed the hope that this would not become a case in which journalists afterwards took issue with the jury’s decision, but that is exactly what has happened in this case. For my part, I do have the advantage over the jury; I have been to the cliff-top to see the terrain for myself.
It would have been important for the jurors to visit the scene themselves, so that they could have a proper understanding of the events that the Crown alleged. But they did not. Indeed, the possibility of a jury visit was effectively precluded by the fact that the trial was moved away from the vicinity of the Isle of Wight so that it could be held in the very police-friendly arena of Kingston Crown Court.
Although the judge had seemed to be cueing the jury, the hints weren’t taken and, by majority verdicts, all five men were convicted.
A subsequent Proceeds of Crime Act inquiry assessed their gains from criminality at zero. It seems wholly inimical to the attainment of justice that, where juries are told so much that is false, this is yet another piece of genuine information that remains hidden from them.
One recalls that Hugo Blick’s TV drama series, The Shadow Line, examined the corruption in drug-trafficking inquiries, and how the same drugs consignments could be simply recycled from one police investigation to the next.
Lawyers believe that there is much we do not yet know about such cases. This Isle of Wight case was masterminded by SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which was formed in 2006 after a series of scandals in the investigation of drugs trafficking overtook its predecessor, HM Customs.
SOCA, similarly beset by scandals, was itself discontinued by the government in 2013 when its duties were subsumed into the National Crime Agency.
Emily Bolton, lawyer for the five men, emphasised to me that, ‘it is an absolute honour and pleasure to represent them’.
As their representative, she would be very interested in hearing about further instances of evidence-bending in cases of this kind, especially in relation to record-keeping, surveillance and the logging of observations. She can be contacted either through Inside Time or at Emily Bolton, Scott-Moncrieff and Associates, 88 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6AA. If you do make contact, please mention this article in your letter.
Bob Woffinden/ May 2015