A Ryde scaffolding business owner, who has spent the last 10 years in prison for a crime he maintains he did not commit, will finally have his appeal heard next week.
Jon Beere, and fellow Islander Daniel Payne – who has already been released from his sentence under licence – have always maintained their innocence of being involved in a £53million cocaine smuggling plot.
The pair, members of the ‘Freshwater Five’, will have their convictions considered by the Court of Appeal in London starting on Tuesday (March 23). Their lawyers will present judges with fresh expert evidence which, they say, disproves the prosecution’s case that they conspired to use a fishing boat to collect drugs from a containership in the English Channel and later deposited them in Freshwater Bay.
The new evidence, uncovered by law charity APPEAL, is based on radar data from a law enforcement vessel which the Crown failed to hand over at trial.
The ‘Freshwater Five’, all of whom maintain innocence, were sentenced to a total of 104 years’ imprisonment at Kingston Crown Court in 2011 after being convicted by an 11-1 majority jury verdict.
Beere, who was not a member of the crew and was not on the boat at the time, fishing-boat skipper Jamie Green and crewmember Zoran Dresic were each handed 24 years’ imprisonment. Fishermen Payne and Scott Birtwistle received 18- and 14-year sentences respectively.
During the case at trial, the Crown alleged that in the early hours of May 30, 2010, Green’s fishing-boat, the Galwad-Y-Mor, manoeuvred in the wake of the MSC Oriane in order to collect 250kg of cocaine jettisoned from the containership, which had travelled to the English Channel from Brazil.
No evidence was put forward showing that drugs had been present on either vessel, but hold-alls of cocaine strung along a rope found floating in Freshwater Bay were recovered by Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) officers the following day.
Two Hampshire Constabulary officers involved in the SOCA operation gave evidence that the afternoon before they had seen “10 to 12” items which were approximately the size of a “large hold-all” and “tied together on a line” deposited from the Galwad-Y-Mor as it passed through Freshwater Bay.
This description closely matched the drugs which were later found but was different to their earlier recorded description of seeing just “6 to 7” items thrown overboard.
The trial judge suggested to the jury that the Crown’s claim that the cliff top officers had radioed in such observations, but that law enforcement failed to react in any way, was “extraordinary”.
Emily Bolton, Director of law practice and charity, APPEAL and solicitor for the ‘Freshwater Five’, said: “This will be the first time a court has had an opportunity to consider this new radar data, which undermines the prosecution case on several fronts.
“Had the jury been told about this evidence it is highly unlikely these men, who have always protested their innocence, would have been convicted.
“We are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will recognize this by quashing the convictions. After years of wrongful imprisonment, all five men deserve to be reunited with their families.”
A television crew was taking footage in and around Yarmouth on Saturday in preparation for a documentary on the case.
For more information on the work of APPEAL, visit: www.appeal.org.uk