Two members of the ‘Freshwater Five’ cocaine smuggling gang, who were jailed over the £53m plot to import 250kg of the Class A drug, have lost their fight to clear their names at the Court of Appeal.
Jonathan Beere, 51, and Daniel Payne, 46, were jailed in 2011 for 24 and 18 years respectively for conspiracy to import huge quantities of the substance into the UK via Freshwater Bay, off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
Payne and three co-defendants – Jamie Green, Scott Birtwistle and Zoran Dresic – were said to have collected the drugs from the English Channel in a fishing boat, the Galwad-Y-Mor, in May 2010.
Jonathan Beere, 51 (left), and Daniel Payne, 46 (right), were sentenced in 2011 to 24 and 18 years respectively for conspiracy to import the £53 million cocaine haul into the UK
Beere was alleged to have acted as a liaison between Green, the skipper of the Galwad who was also jailed for 24 years, and those organising the smuggling.
At their trial in 2011, Kingston Crown Court heard the Galwad crossed the path of the Oriane, a container ship sailing from Brazil, and then slowed down to collect the cocaine.
The Court of Appeal heard in February that new radar evidence showed ‘the Galwad never crossed behind the Oriane’, meaning it was ‘simply impossible’ for them to have collected the drugs.
Beere and Payne’s barrister Joel Bennathan QC said the new data ‘transforms the picture that was presented to the jury’.
But the Court of Appeal today dismissed Beere and Payne’s appeals against their convictions.
In the court’s ruling, Sir Julian Flaux – sitting with Mr Justice Andrew Baker and Mr Justice Calver – said: ‘Standing back and looking at all the evidence available at trial as well as the evidence now available, whilst the evidence is circumstantial, this was, as the (Criminal Cases Review Commission) concluded, a ‘compelling prosecution case of conspiracy to import cocaine’.
Emily Bolton, director of the charity Appeal who represents the Freshwater Five, said in a statement: ‘Miscarriages of justice don’t just happen in the trial courts – today one happened in the Court of Appeal.
‘The court handed down a judgment which simply underscores just how profoundly broken the criminal appeals system is in this country.
‘There is no dispute that this is a case in which law enforcement and the prosecution failed to hand over crucial evidence to the defence at trial.
‘As we showed in the court hearing, that new evidence undermines the prosecution’s case on several fronts and gives a totally different picture to that which was presented to the jury.
‘Yet, in yet another failure to correct a miscarriage of justice, the Court of Appeal has said today that none of this matters.
‘The court has substituted its judgment for that of the jurors in a way that fundamentally undermines the principle of trial by jury.’
Police mugshots released of the ‘Freshwater Five’ after the trial show, from top-left: Daniel Payne, Zoran Dresic, Jonathan Beere, Scott Birtwistle, Jamie Green
Ms Bolton also said the Court of Appeal’s ruling ‘effectively gives law enforcement a licence to perpetuate evidence disclosure failures in future’.
She added: ‘It sends a deeply troubling message that they can withhold crucial information from judges, juries, and defendants and get away with it.
‘We have no doubt that law enforcement holds further evidence which supports the Freshwater Five’s innocence.
‘Yet our opaque, unaccountable justice system continues to prevent the truth from coming to light.
‘To those with short memories, it is worth bearing in mind that it took three appeals before the Birmingham Six finally had their names cleared.
‘The Freshwater Five, their families and the Appeal team will keep battling for justice and reform.’