'Freshwater Five': Pair's drug smuggling convictions upheld

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Jonathan Beere and Daniel Payne, 46
Image caption,
Jonathan Beere and Daniel Payne were jailed in 2011 for 24 and 18 years respectively

Two men, jailed for smuggling cocaine worth £53m into the UK, have had their convictions upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Jonathan Beere and Daniel Payne, from the Isle of Wight, were jailed in 2011 for 24 and 18 years respectively.

They are part of the so-called Freshwater Five who have always maintained their innocence.

Appeal judges rejected new evidence, which their lawyers claimed undermined the result of their trial.

Payne, 46, 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.

Beere, 51, who ran a scaffolding company in Ryde, 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.

Green, Beere and Dresic remain in prison, while Payne and Birtwhistle were both released on licence in recent years.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Payne (centre), attended the Court of Appeal hearing last month
Image source, Serious organised crime agency
Image caption,
From top-left: Daniel Payne, Zoran Dresic, Jonathan Beere, Scott Birtwistle, Jamie Green

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.

In the court's ruling, Sir Julian Flaux - sitting with Mr Justice Andrew Baker and Mr Justice Calver - said there had been 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 judgement said.

"The applications for leave to appeal conviction are accordingly refused, as are the applications for an extension of time and to adduce fresh evidence."

Image source, Appeal
Image caption,
The men's families have campaigned for their convictions to be overturned

Solicitor Emily Bolton, who is director of the charity Appeal which had championed the men's case, said it was "yet another failure to correct a miscarriage of justice".

"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," she said.

"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."

In a statement, the men's families said it was a "bitter and dark day" and a "pitiful judgement".

"These men are innocent and have collectively spent decades in prison for a crime they did not commit," the statement added.

"They have missed births, the deaths of close family members, and countless other irreplaceable family moments while our so called 'justice' system has kept them kidnapped behind bars."

It continued: "Once the dust has settled, we will be back fighting for this horrific miscarriage of justice to be overturned."

Nikki Holland, director of investigations at the National Crime Agency, welcomed the judgement.

She said: "The officers involved in this investigation, with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, have continually demonstrated the veracity of the evidence over the last 10 years.

"Issues relating to the retention of the Electronic Chart Display and Information System data (ECDIS) by an expert witness have been reviewed... and [it was] found that there was no deliberate attempt to suppress this data.

"In addition, they [appeal judges] have said that the data itself supports - rather than undermines - the prosecution case.

"All appeal processes have been explored and we hope a line can now be drawn under this case."

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