ECHR rules that withheld evidence prohibited a fair trial (James Dowsett, 1989)

Important evidence not disclosed by police – European Court ruled this was a breach of right to a fair trial, but Court of Appeal fails to respond

James Dowsett was convicted in March 1989 at the Norwich Crown Court of the murder of his business partner, Christopher Nugent.

The two men ran a financial services company under the name ‘Walkers’ which had premises in a number of locations in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

On the 15 December 1987, Mr Nugent’s body was found at the Walkers’ offices in Mildenhall, Suffolk with two shotgun wounds to his head.

The prosecution case was that Mr Nugent had been the victim of a contract killing with James Dowsett and two business associates, James Payn and Roger Lewis having paid a Stephen Gray and a Gary Runham to carry out the killing.

The Crown argued that Stephen Gray carried out the shooting with Gary Runham driving the getaway car. At trial, both Gray and Runham pleaded guilty to the murder of Christopher Nugent.

However, Gray gave evidence for the prosecution implicating James Dowsett and a number of other people in a conspiracy to murder Mr Nugent. Runham did not give evidence.

The prosecution presented no clear and unambiguous motive for the killing although they did present evidence that James Dowsett had become very dissatisfied with Mr Nugent’s performance at work.

There was also evidence that Mr Nugent’s life had been insured more than once for substantial sums shortly before his death.

The prosecution also alleged that James Payn a consultant at the Walkers, Lakenheath, Suffolk office had provided the bulk of the money to arrange the murder. Roger Lewis, an insurance agent from King’s Lynn was alleged to have made further payments to Stephen Gray on behalf of James Dowsett after Gray had demanded more money following the murder. A fifth man named Higgins was charged with supplying the gun to kill Nugent.

At the end of the prosecution case the trial judge discharged Higgins after finding that there was no case to answer. James Pyn and Roger Lewis were both acquitted by the jury.
James Dowsett was convicted after nearly eight hours of deliberation.

Some twenty years later and in spite of a judgment at the European Court of Human Rights in June 2003 (Dowsett v UK: Application No. 39482/98) in which the Court declared that James Dowsett’s right to a fair trial had been violated and was thus a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

He remains in Category C conditions (HMP Highpoint) and has been refused parole or a move to open conditions.

The reasons which the Prison Service have given to Mr Dowsett is his stance that he is innocent of the murder and his refusal to participate in offence related coursework.

Escorted town visits which are part of the process for risk assessing one’s suitability for progressive transfers, in this instance to open conditions or Category D status have also been stopped for the same reasons.

The European Court of Human Rights are currently looking at a fresh application alleging further breaches of James Dowsett’s human rights.

The Council of Ministers are also looking into the failure of the British Government  to execute the Court’s judgement of June 2003 which should have meant Mr Dowsett’s case being sent to the Court of Appeal and the quashing of the conviction for murder. Mr Dowsett’s case at the ECtHR centered on material which had the capacity of assisting Mr Dowsett’s defence at trial being withheld from him by the prosecution.

The Court held that material evidence relevant to the defence had to be placed before the trial judge for a ruling on disclosure at the time when it could most effectively protect the right of the defence.

Mr Dowsett’s case at the EctHR was that withheld material showed that the main prosecution witness Stephen Gray had been ‘doing deals’ for various favours which included being given a recommended tariff at the trial which in the event was 11 years which had been agreed by Suffolk police even before Gray had made his statement and before giving evidence at Court. Mr Dowsett provided to the Court written evidence of these factors which included a copy of a letter between the Suffolk Police and Gray’s solicitors which clearly showed the transactions between the police and Gray.

The ECtHR also noted that there was still much material that the prosecution had failed to disclose without having ever placed it before a judge to decide whether it should disclosed to the defence, including a ‘Reward File’ showing payments of monies to various witnesses some of whom were associates of Stephen Gray, thereby severely undermining the reliability of their evidence at the trial.

Other evidence withheld were documents and other paperwork proving that Mr Nugent was fully aware of the insurance policies in place and other evidence which showed that the family of Mr Nugent would be the main beneficiaries and with a share of the business if it should be sold.

How could Mr Dowsett be aware of the intentions of Mr Nugent’s family following his death in what they wanted to do with his share of the business, whether they might want to retain their share or sell it to Mr Dowsett, the latter which would have resulted in Mr Dowsett having to take on a huge amount of debt to satisfy those demands.

Other material evidence which was withheld was that seized from the office of ‘Walkers’ and that removed from Mr Nugent’s home.

Mr Dowsett became aware of this some years after his conviction via a receipt made out by a Detective Superintendent Abrahams (the officer in charge of the investigation) and signed by Mr Nugent’s widow.

The police state that none of this was recorded, copies or entered on the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (HOLMES) computer, that they have no idea what was contained on it or what Mrs Nugent did with this material.

This of course breaches the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), in that all material must be copied, recorded and entered on to the HOLMES computer system if the system is being used in the investigation of a crime.

There is also a great deal of other evidence which remains undisclosed and what surprises this holds is anyone’s guess. However, the Criminal Review Cases Commission (CCRC) in reviewing the ECtHR decision as a formality to refer Mr Dowsett’s case back to the Court of Appeal only ever released to Mr Dowsett what he already had.

In the event, the CCRC refused to refer Mr Dowsett’s case back to the Court of Appeal. Mr Dowsett then applied for a judicial review of that decision. The latter court held that the CCRC were fully entitled to take the view that they did not to refer the case to the Court of Appeal because of the way the law stood.

Of course, the European Court of Human Rights does not recognise the CCRC as being a judicial body and the fact that the commissioner of the CCRC and others are political appointee removes it even further from the judicial field.

Currently, Mr Dowsett remains in ill-health following surgery to remove a tumour from his pancreas which resulted in the removal of a large part of that organ.

He is also diabetic and at the age of 64 his medical condition means he is constantly monitored.

His ill health precludes him from participating in many of the activities of prison life and none more so than in the area of offending behaviour work or even on a one-to-one basis should he so elect to undertake any. This greatly reduces his prospects of parole or moving on to open conditions because of his disabilities.

His next parole hearing is set for July 2010.

Both Stephen Gray and Gary Runham the co accused who were sentenced to life imprisonment have since been released on licence, this despite Gray’s record of having serious breaches of trust in prison and also violence and abuse recorded against him during the course of his imprisonment.

It pays, its seems, to be helpful to the state especially if one tells them what they want to hear.

Charles Hanson
Saturday 3rd March 2010

About INNOCENT (138 Articles)
Challenging miscarriages of justice since 1993.

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