Bolton’s £6m bill for drug trial saga
The Bolton News can today reveal the full story behind one of the most complex and expensive trials in Bolton’s legal history — centring on drug dealing and police corruption.
The total cost of the legal proceedings and investigation into an alleged gang of drug dealers and a corrupt drugs squad officer is estimated to be more than £5.1 million.
The cost of court security and police wages on top of that left the taxpayer with a bill for almost £6 million.
The case involved more than 10,000 pages of evidence, 500 witnesses, 14 barristers, four trials, five juries and more than 160 days in court.
Court hearings started at the end of September, 2009, and the matter has still not been fully resolved, almost 20 months later.
The Bolton News has been prevented from reporting what happened until now, after the Attorney General was given permission to pursue a bid to have a juror jailed for alleged contempt of court. A catalogue of errors and complications caused the trial process to collapse three times, meaning that four lengthy and complex trials were needed to finally see justice done.
The first trial, lasting almost five weeks, stalled when legal argument erupted over the disclosure of confidential information relating to police informants.
The process took so long that the judge, Peter Lakin, was eventually forced to start again because of “jury fatigue”.
The jury had been out of the courtroom for so long that it was ruled they could not be expected to remember the evidence they had already heard.
A second trial started on January 11, 2010, which again lasted about four weeks before the confidential information problem re-emerged.
The judge ruled that documents containing highly sensitive information about police informants should be made available to the court, but their personal details should be edited to keep them confidential.
The documents were distributed electronically with the changes in place, but, due to a technical error, the lawyers were able to see through the black marks used to obscure the names.
This caused the second trial to collapse, and a third trial started on May 24, 2010. The first jury sworn in lasted only two days before it had to be replaced with another because of concerns about the status of one of the jurors.
The third trial eventually got under way, and was nearing completion, when, 12 weeks into the process and part-way through the jury delivering its verdicts that it was alleged one of the jurors, Joanne Fraill, had been in contact with one of the defendants, Jamie Sewart, on Facebook.
This would constitute a serious criminal offence of contempt of court and caused the collapse of the trial.
The verdicts already delivered on four of the defendants were left to stand, while the remaining three defendants underwent a fourth trial.
This finished in December 2010, but the judge made an order preventing the full details being made public until the contempt of court matter went to the High Court.
The final result was that most of the defendants either walked free from court or served only short sentences due to the time they had spent on remand after being on trial for almost a year-and-a-half.
Convicted drug dealer Gary Knox was jailed for six years after he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office at the end of the third trial, while corrupt police officer Phil Berry, who admitted the same charge, was jailed for four years.
Knox was acquitted of conspiracy to supply class A and class B drugs, as were Philip Meiring, Sewart and Joanne Greaves at the end of the third trial.
Gail Hadfield was acquitted of conspiracy to supply class B drugs at the end of the fourth trial, while Hunt pleaded guilty to supplying class B drugs during the course of his evidence, and was jailed for five years.
The jury was hung on Anthony Grainger and Francis Hunt’s conspiracy to supply class B drugs charges, and was discharged.
Grainger was later jailed for 20 months after pleading guilty to handling stolen cars.
The Crown Prosecution Service considered a fifth trial but decided against it.
Commenting on the error which caused the collapse of the second trial, Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “We, like other forces, used a nationwide computer programme to blank out this sensitive information.
“However, due to a glitch in the programme, the redacted information was accessed. We took immediate measures to protect any individuals whose details had been accessed and a new system is in place to stop this happening again.”
Speaking about the cost of the trial, a Legal Services Commission spokesman said: “The defence costs reflect the facts that this matter involved several people in a lengthy case that also included three retrials.
“These cases were begun under an old system, where — at the conclusion of a Crown Court case — the judge would consider whether to make a ‘recovery of defence costs order’ considering the costs of the case. The Crown Court means-testing system now in place means that a defendant’s financial means are assessed, and those who can afford to contribute or pay for their defence costs, have to.
“This helps safeguard the legal aid budget, and ensure it is only used for those who can’t afford it.”