Mohammed Yusef Patel

Twenty-eight months

Guardian Unlimited
13 May 2000
Police rewrote 'confession'
of accountant wrongly jailed

By Martin Deacon

An accountant who was convicted of prejudicing a police investigation has had his conviction quashed by the court of appeal after it was ruled that part of his confession had been rewritten by a police officer.

Mohammed Yusef Patel was sentenced to four years at Snaresbrook crown court in 1987 for allegedly prejudicing an international drugs investigation. He served 28 months in prison before being released in April 1990.

But yesterday, 13 years after his original conviction, the court of appeal ruled that it was unsafe. Lord Justice Pill said that in the light of fresh evidence there was no substantial basis to support the main allegation against him.

After hearing that his conviction had been quashed, the 44-year-old former Muslim Commercial Bank accountant said he would be seeking compensation. He said no amount of money could make up for the damage caused to his life during 13 "devastating" years.

"This is total vindication for me," he said. "I had 13 years of pain and anguish. It ruined my life. But this is very good news for me and my family."

Mr Patel, who is now on medication for stress, said he would be seeking damages against the Metropolitan police. He said that since he was released from prison he had been unable to re-build his life.

"I am now very forgetful and unable to work. I will never be the same person again."

His problems began in 1987 when he visited the house of a client, Ramjamadi Mo hammed Ali. Police were raiding Ali's house at the time and discovered 5 kg of heroin.

Mr Patel insisted that he knew nothing about the drugs but the police issued an order banning him from communicating with a number of his clients in Portugal who were under suspicion of international drug trafficking.

The prosecution claimed he had compromised the case by contacting those clients.

Ali was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the possession of £1 million of heroin with intent to supply.

Mr Patel, from Stamford Hill, north London, always maintained his innocence. Yesterday the court of appeal heard that scientific analysis of an alleged confession statement showed that part of it had been re-written.

Guardian Unlimited
22 May 2000
Guilty until proven innocent

Mohammed Patel spent three years in prison for a drug crime. Ten years on, the CPS has conceded that there wasn't a scrap of evidence against him. Bob Woffinden reports

Mohammed Patel's life changed for ever on Sunday, 18 January 1987, the day he was ferrying children to his six-year-old daughter's birthday party. Arriving at a house in Rainham, Essex, to pick up two children, he found himself in the middle of a drugs raid.

The police had just found about £1m worth of heroin. They told Patel to send the children home by minicab. They strip-searched him, and took him to be questioned at Romford police station.

Patel stood trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court and was given a four-year prison sentence. His life was in ruins; his promising career as a banker in the City of London was over. This month the Crown finally conceded that there wasn't a scrap of evidence against him.

"When you look at the case in detail," explained his solicitor, Jane Hickman, "you can see that Mr Patel has been let down by every part of the criminal justice system."

Patel, 44, came to this country in 1977 from India and enthusiastically adopted the ways of his host country. He became westernised in every way, and even passed the Lord Tebbit nationality test: he supported England at cricket.

He joined the Muslim Commercial Bank, won a series of rapid promotions and became the bank's accountant. The bank depended on Asian businessmen, and staff were instructed to foster social contacts - which explained Patel's arrival at the house of Mohamedali Ramjanali, later sentenced to 16 years for possessing heroin with intent to supply.

Patel was charged with leaking information prejudicial to their inquiry into the drugs case, suggesting that he had enabled the drug dealers to protect their assets. There were two strands of evidence against him. The first concerned supposed admissions he had made during two interviews. There was no record of the first interview, although there was an ostensibly contemporaneous record of the second.

The second strand of evidence only emerged at trial, when the investigating officer told the jury that "certain inquiries we did make in Lisbon reflected directly communication being made from London by Mr Patel".

This evidence, however damaging, was vague, but it was put in more concrete terms by the judge. In his summing-up, he said that "the investigation had in fact been compromised by information being leaked from London". This embellishment was itself further embellished at appeal by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, who commented that the investigation had been "grossly compromised" by the leak.

After his release in 1990, Patel dedicated himself to getting his conviction quashed. He had first been refused permission to appeal in March 1988. In February 1989, a full three-judge court turned down his appeal, but neither Patel nor his lawyers had been informed about the hearing. The appeal was heard again in March 1990, and again turned down.

Hickman's concern was two-fold: that her client had been convicted on spurious evidence; and that his barrister had failed to challenge the admissibility of the interviews, and had told Patel he could not criticise the police. Although Patel's instructions throughout were that the police had fabricated the interviews, the barrister told his client to say in the witness box that he "couldn't remember" the key questions and answers, seriously weakening Patel's credibility.

Hickman obtained the records of the second interview and sent them for electrostatic document analysis (ESDA) tests. These proved that, at the critical point, the pages had been re-written, supporting Patel's claims that the self-incriminating remarks were fabricated.

But the Crown Prosecution Service refused to release documents indicating Patel had leaked information, claiming they were protected by public interest immunity (PII) certificates. In June 1993, Hickman urged the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, to refer the case to appeal. The Home Office asked the Police Complaints Authority to supervise an investigation into the case. Its report was delivered in May 1996. Hickman sent a fresh submission to the Home Secretary - by then Michael Howard - and the case was referred to appeal in November 1996.

Innumerable delays followed before the case was finally listed for hearing this month. Forty-eight hours before the hearing on May 11, the CPS finally threw in the towel. They conceded that the judge in his summing-up had misreported what the police officer said, and that what the police officer had said wasn't true. The information that had supposedly been covered by PII for at least the previous eight years simply didn't exist.

"The Crown were prepared to concede that there was no evidence of money movements, that there was no evidence at all of leaking, and that there had been tampering with the interviews," said Hickman. "If they were prepared to concede all that now, why did we have to wait all these years?"

Patel wept quietly in court as his conviction was quashed. "They can't give him back his career, or the 13 years he's lost, or his peace of mind," said Hickman. "I don't know how you can ever compensate anybody for all that."

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