The extraordinary tale of a trawler skipper and his crew, jailed for between 14 & 24 years each as international drug smugglers bares all the hallmarks of a miscarriage of justice.
Police evidence, logs and records were altered, lost, ‘spoilt’ or heavily dedacted; there was late disclosure and appears to have been a critical mistake in the judge’s summing up. There is also serious concern that
members of the now defunct Serious Organised Crime Agency sought to influence the trial jury.
Isle of Wight lobster fishermen Jamie Green, 45, Dan Payne, 39, Scott Birtwhistle 23 and Zoran Dresnic, 39 and a family friend, Jonathan Beere , 45 were jailed in June 2011 for conspiracy to smuggle 255kgs of
cocaine with a street value of £53m into the UK.
The prosecution case was that the real purpose of the men’s expedition into the Channel in May 2010 was to collect drugs dropped overboard from a Brazilian container boat, the Oriane. It claimed phone calls were relayed between the two by a ‘shadowy’ foreigner, called Dexter who had planted Dresnic, a Montenegrin, on the trawler to oversee the operation.
The Crown said that later the next day, before the trawler returned to Yarmouth, the crew dropped the drugs overboard intending to collect them at night. Two police officers keeping surveillance from the cliffs
of Tennyson Down described how they saw 10 to 11 hold-alls, all tied separately on a long length of rope thrown over the back of the boat.
The smugglers efforts were thwarted by a combined police customs operation – code named ‘Disorient’, which was tracking the Oriane as she sailed through the Channel.
But there is little other than circumstantial evidence to support the prosecution’s version of events. The fishermen were not the target of the operation and not regarded as potential targets until over three
hours after the Oriane had sailed through the Channel. The men’s defence was quite simply that they were on a regular lobster trawling trip, but were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The only direct evidence against the fisherman is the most dubious; the testimony provided by the two
surveillance officers on the cliffs, DC Andrew Dunne and DC Paul Jeans. Having watched such suspicious activity, in the sea below them, not only did they leave the scene, with no-one monitoring the drugs, but they also prepared to return to their Hampshire base. As Judge Dodgson, told the jury: ‘It does seem extraordinary, does it not , that 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 – apparently completely unaware that the significance has been missed by everybody.’
The fact that any drugs were recovered at all was no thanks to the police or customs. It was down to another lobster fisherman, who went to check his pots the following day and found the haul tangled in his lines. In the meantime Green and his crew had been arrested some two hours after they docked in
What was also troubling was that initially the two DCs, in regular radio contact with their command, had reported only that the men appeared to be fishing of the coast and later that the boat ‘is moving westbound, throwing six or seven items overboard at intervals’. This fitted exactly with the crew’s account of fishing for mackerel and tossing overboard black plastic sacks of the ship’s toilet and other waste, as it apparently often did, before heading back into harbour.
What transpired between the initial radio message recording events as they happened and the officers’ subsequent damning statements and testimony is, of course, that the drugs were found. The two
officers, who contrary to ‘strict’ police guidance were excluded from the usual post-operation debrief, were instead met on their own in their car, by Gary Breen, a Soca’s operational commander. Again contrary to
procedure, and unknown to the officer in charge of the log, Breen took it along where the two DCs made amendments, changing not only the description of what they claimed to have seen going overboard, but also the location of the Galwad Y Mor. Recovery of the drugs was also suspiciously delayed till the officers could return to cliffs and watch, after which they drew up their statements.
So that leaves the circumstantial evidence. First, as the judge kept reminding the jury, there as no evidence
that the drugs were ever on or dropped from the container ship. It was one of nine that night from South America, and one of 99 larger vessels using the shipping lanes. The only reason police became aware that the two boats were near each other, was much later and came from records of the trawler’s Olex sea bed
mapping device. As Jamie Green, the skipper said: ‘If I really had been engaged on a drugs operation, would I have left the machine on to record the evidence?’
The jury was never told what intelligence triggered Operation Disorient. But whatever the trigger, a customs cutter was tracking the Oriane, from about 10.30pm. It is evident, therefore that the cutter crew
tailing the Oriane must have missed entirely the Galwad y Mor, when according to the prosecution it came behind the container boat and supposedly recovered the drugs in just three and half minutes. Experts agreed that, if the cocaine did originate from the Oriane, cruising at about 20mph, they would have been bundled together in one huge package so not to break up on impact. A defence expert, that the crew could not possibly have hauled the bundle on board, in stormy seas, especially as the boat was always Much was made by the prosecution of the fact that the trawler was out in busy, hazardous shipping lanes on a stormy
night, claiming its manoeuvres around the Oriane were highly suspicious. But Chinnery, producing the trawlers entire Olex history, showed an identical pattern of movement on no less than 28 previous fishing trips.
So what to make of Dugic and Dresnic? Their role could be regarded as suspicious, and dugic was being followed as part of a separate police operation - nothing to do with the Oriane or drugs. Dresnic said he was
intending to work illegally as he could earn more here than in Montenegro. He was put in touch with Dugic by a mutual friend and had never seen Dugic before he escorted him to the Isle of Wight. The fishermen maintain that as far as ‘Dresnic’ was concerned, he was just another foreign itinerant worker. (They produced evidence to show they had employed others on a casual basis).
As to the phone calls, it is certainly suspicious that there were numerous calls between the fishing boat and Dugic and associates at what the prosecution say were critical times over the weekend. However, there is
no evidence that any call was relayed to or from anyone on the Oriane. The Judge should have said that was pure conjecture on the part of the prosecution. Phone records proved only that there were a serious of calls or texts recorded between the trawler and Dexter, on the phones he and Dresnic had purchased in the Isle of Wight. Record showed an onward connection to the Netherlands and elsewhere - but not the Oriane. However when the judge summed up, he told the jury the Crowns case was that ‘someone on the
Oriane was in communication with Dexter and his associates, who were in turn communicating with Mr Green. The defence say this is purely co-in incidence’. Although the defence did not spot the error at the time, the judge was suggesting a direct link between the Oriane and the trawler, which was not in
The Galwad y Mor was subject to forensic testing for traces of drugs that might have escaped the holdalls. None was found.
There was little established fact other than drugs were washed up on the Isle of Wight at a time, when
intelligence suggested they would be., and that there were lots of mysterious phone calls.
There was evidence to suggest police misconduct – although the Independent Police Complaints Commission later dismissed this. Yet by a majority verdict all were found guilty.
After conviction, the one dissenting juror reported that during the trial, he overheard colleagues discussing that one juror had been approached by a Soca officer. The policeman was supposed to have said,
among other things, was that Julian Christopher, the lead defence QC, had formerly been a Soca prosecutor and was using information acquired then to undermine the case against the fishermen now.
The matter was referred to the Appeal Court but the bench threw it out saying the juror was not ‘capable of
belief’. Yet the Juror’s account was in part supported by the QC himself, who said he had also been approached by Soca officers, who had repeated the same sentiments.
Now defence lawyers are preparing a new dossier of evidence which they hope will convince the CCRC to reopen the case.