Lawyers acting for two men convicted for smuggling £53 million of cocaine nearly 10 years ago yesterday claimed “British justice is dead” after their appeal was turned down.
Jonathan Beere, 51, and Daniel Payne, 46, two members of the ‘Freshwater Five’ who were sentenced to a total of 104 years’ imprisonment, had presented fresh expert evidence in the Court of Appeal last month. But the men, and their families, were left devastated by the decision, which came just four days after the death of Beere’s father.
The court’s ruling 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’.
“The grounds of appeal do not begin individually, or collectively, to cast doubt on the safety of these applicants’ convictions. The applications for leave to appeal conviction are accordingly refused, as are the applications for an extension of time and to adduce fresh evidence.”
Following the judgement, Emily Bolton, Director of law charity APPEAL and solicitor for the five men, said: “In ruling against Jon Beere and Danny Payne, the court has once again whitewashed over what has happened in this case, just four days after Jon’s father died, having lost his battle to hold out long enough to see his son vindicated.
“At this next funeral we will be mourning the death of Jon’s father, but also the death of British justice. British justice is broken, and we will never trust it again.
“But we have faith that the truth will out. In every round of this case, more and more people have come forward with information about what really happened. We are not the only ones waking up in the night worrying about this case – people involved in the original investigation are having trouble sleeping too – there are whistleblower protections and those with a conscience will come forward.
“The five men and their families would like to place on record their sincerest thanks to the legal charity APPEAL for their relentless work, and for walking through this nightmare alongside us.
“The war is not over, and you haven’t heard the last of us. Once the dust has settled, we will be back fighting for this horrific miscarriage of justice to be overturned and making sure the public knows the full story of not just what happened here, but of the efforts that have been made to cover it up.”
Scaffolding business-owner Beere, fishing-boat skipper Jamie Green and crew-member Zoran Dresic were each handed down 24 years’ imprisonment, while fishermen Payne and Scott Birtwistle received 18- and 14-year sentences respectively. During the appeal, their legal team claimed new radar evidence seriously undermined the original conviction and that it was ‘simply impossible’ for the crew to have collected drugs from the sea.
The men’s trial in 2011 heard Payne and his three co-defendants collected the drugs in a fishing boat, the Galwad-Y-Mor, which was deposited in the English Channel by a container ship, Oriane, sailing from Brazil. Beere, who was not on the boat, was said to have acted as a liaison between Green and those organising the smuggling. Jurors were told the Galwad crossed the path of the Oriane and then slowed down to collect the cocaine by ‘coopering’, where goods are transferred from one vessel to another at sea.
But Joel Bennathan QC said new radar evidence had “finally emerged” more than seven years after their trial in 2011, and showed the Galwad never crossed behind the Oriane. He said: “As such, the idea of coopering in a very short time in quite high seas reduces from being difficult but conceivable to being simply impossible.” Mr Bennathan also said another suspect boat had travelled near to where the cocaine was recovered shortly afterwards. He said the prosecution’s failure to “examine and disclose” radar data about that vessel had prevented Beere and Payne mounting arguments “that might have led to different verdicts”.
However, written submissions for the Crown argued that the new radar data showed that the Galwad-Y-Mor had crossed behind the Oriane and was in sufficiently close proximity to permit the transfer of the drugs, adding ‘The convictions are safe, taking into account the evidence as a whole’.
Payne, Green, Birtwistle and Dresic have always said they were on a routine fishing trip at the time the crime took place. The five men were found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine and jailed for a total of 104 years. Birtwistle was released in 2017 while Payne is out on licence.
Sue Beere, wife of Jon, said: “We are devastated but not giving up. The truth will come out eventually. Our justice system is completely broken. Thank you to every single amazing person who has supported us so far.”