Miscarriage watchdog rejects ‘Freshwater Five’ case despite new expert testimony
The miscarriage of justice watchdog has rejected the case of five men convicted of attempting to smuggle £53 million of cocaine off the Isle of Wight despite new expert evidence.
The men, known as the ‘Freshwater Five’, are serving a combined sentence of 104 years and have continually insisted upon their innocence. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has refused to provide the prisoners with evidence from the police files in their case. The five are represented by the legal charity the Centre for Criminal Appeals.
The crown accused four of the men of collecting bags of cocaine after sailing behind a container ship in the English Channel. However, no traces of cocaine were found on either vessel.
The prosecution relied on eye-witness testimony from two police officers who allegedly saw ‘six to seven’ items being thrown overboard which the fishermen claimed that this could have been waste. Other key evidence was GPS navigation data which allegedly demonstrated that the fishing boat had crossed paths with a container ship allowing the men to collect the drugs.
However, Don Dewar, an expert witness for the Centre of Criminal Appeals yesterday told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme (here) that ‘they’ve been convicted on one piece of evidence which I do not believe actually happened’. ‘All the evidence that I see, supports the fact that it didn’t happen,’ he said.
Dewar, who had worked previously in the Serious Organised Crime Agency, claims that the fishing vessel had not crossed paths with the container ship and, at its closest, was 174m away from the container ship. Dewar also stated that it was ‘negligent’ for leaving the surveillance of the cliffside to two untrained police officers.
Despite this, CCRC Commissioner David James Smith stated that ‘here we’re talking about an extra distance [174 m]… and in our view that just didn’t make a difference.’
Richard Yardley, the only one of 12 jurors to find the men not guilty, also spoke out. ‘There are lots of things wrong about that case,’ he said. ‘I was convinced beyond reasonable doubt at the time [that they were not guilty]. Now I’m convinced beyond any doubt whatsoever.’
Emily Bolton of the Centre for Criminal Appeals told the BBC that ‘the questions that the experts examining the case in post-conviction have thrown up are not being answered. If the tracks didn’t cross, they didn’t smuggle the drugs.’
As highlighted at the launch of the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages the CCRC only referred 12 cases last year, just 0.77% of the total applications and down from an average of 3.3% – reported on the Justice Gap here.
The director of the Centre of Criminal Appeals, Suzanne Gower, said the quality of the watchdog’s investigation ‘correlates directly with how much time is spent on it, how much documentation and evidence is examined and how much boots on the ground investigation takes place. Hillsborough has shown the way – but the CCRC has apparently learned nothing from that enquiry.’
Sarah is a journalist and Justice Gap reporter. She has a longstanding interest in migration, detention and human rights activism. Sarah is former Anti-Racism Officer of the London School of Economics student union