The fate of two men convicted of smuggling £53million worth of cocaine off the Isle of Wight could be decided this morning after three dramatic days in the Court of Appeal.
Jonathan Beere, 51, and Daniel Payne, 46, two members of the ‘Freshwater Five’, were jailed for 24 and 18 years respectively for conspiracy to import the drugs in May 2010.
But their legal team told the court how 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.
Ryde scaffold business owner Beere, who was not on the boat, was said to have acted as a liaison between Jamie Green, the skipper of the Galwad who was also jailed for 24 years, and those organizing the alleged 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 after the Galwad sailed nearby. 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’ at their trial.
However, in written submissions for the Crown, Deanna Heer 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 as previously alleged. She added: “The convictions are safe, taking into account the evidence as a whole.”
Beere, Payne, Green, Scott Birtwistle and Zoran Dresic have always said they were on a routine fishing trip at the time police claim the crime took place. They 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.
Both men attended the Appeal as did family members of the Freshwater Five.
Beere’s wife, Sue, said: “I’m so longing for justice for all of the boys. It’s been such an incredibly long time coming.
“We need to get Jon home with us and be able to walk down the road with him, as a family. Just to walk down the road with him, would be the greatest, sweetest thing. It’s just the little things. We need to get on with our life with Jon. He’s missed far too much, but we still have so much to do together.”
The hearing is expected to conclude this morning although the judges’ ruling may be reserved to a later date.