On the 29th February 2016 the NI Court of Criminal Appeal quashed a conviction of one count of concealing criminal property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 against our client Ms Heather Ramsey.
The conviction was quashed as a result of tenacity on the part of the defence legal team in questioning the manner in which the trial was conducted. The prosecution were unable to prove the case they set out in their opening statement to the jury and incorrectly relied upon a plea by a co-defendant, prejudicing Ms Ramsey before the jury.
Ms Ramsey had been jointly in November 2009 with her ex partner Edward Bamber and another male George Courtney. Bamber and Courtney were stopped by police after driving to Monaghan to take delivery of a consignment. Bamber and Courtney returned to Northern Ireland in separate vehicles and were stopped by the police who recovered a large quantity of cannabis valued at £500,000 in Bamber’s vehicle. In the follow up search of the house which Bamber shared with Ms Ramsey at that time, police found a further quantity of cannabis valued at £20,000 and cash sums of £8,940 and £5,445. A further sum of £22,000 was recovered by police from the property of Ms Ramsey’s father.
During police interviews Bamber admitted that he had acted as a drugs courier between Belfast, Newry, Derry and the continent and that he had received the total sum of £4000 in payment. He also told police that the £22,000 found at Ms Ramsey’s father’s house constituted legitimate savings which he had left with his then partner’s father for safe-keeping.
On the 8th February 2011 Bamber pleaded guilty to 7 counts including importation of Class B drugs and one count of concealing criminal property (being the £22,000 left with his then partner’s father), two further counts of possession of criminal property being the sums of £8940 and £5445 recovered from the property he shared with Ms Ramsey.
Ms Ramsey was first tried before a jury in October 2011 but the jury in that trial had to be discharged. Ms Ramsey appeared again before a jury trial in November 2013 in respect of the one count of concealment of criminal property, namely the £22,000 recovered from her father’s house.
At the trial in November 2013 the prosecution outlined to the jury that it intended to lead evidence of Bamber’s plea of guilty to the charge of concealing the £22,000. The legal team for Ms Ramsey included Mr Diarmaid Kelly Solicitor of Harte Coyle Collins, Mr Martin O Rourke Q.C., and Mr Dessie Hutton BL. The defence team objected to the prosecution;s reliance on Bamber’s plea on the basis that it was prejudicial to Ms Ramsey’s case. The defence also submitted that the fact of Bamber’s plea could only be relied upon in relation to a part, and not all, of the £22,000.
The trial judge ruled that the Bamber plea was admissible. Ms Ramsey was convicted of the one count by the jury.
In 2014 the legal team appealed the conviction to the Northern Ireland Court of Criminal Appeal on the basis that the conviction was unsafe because the Bamber plea was admitted in evidence before the jury and this prejudiced Ms Ramsey, and that the prosecution failed to prove that the £22,000 constituted proceeds of crime.
On the 29th February 2016 the Court of Appeal ruled that the prosecution at trial had failed to prove that up to £17,500 of the £22,000 was derived from proceeds of crime and that this failure, together with the prejudicial reliance on the Bamber plea, rendered the conviction unsafe. The Court of Appeal stated that
“The evidence of the Bamber plea could not satisfy the burden on the prosecution although the jury were left with the impression that the Bamber plea was capable of doing so……there was unsupportable weight placed on the evidence of the Bamber plea.”
Solicitor Diarmaid Kelly, who led the defence team, said today;
“This is a long running case which put enormous stress on our client and involved 2 trials and a hearing by the Court of Appeal to correct the prosecution errors. The prosecution’s inability to prove what it said it would prove in the opening statement ultimately resulted in this unsafe conviction being quashed.
The Court of Appeal has today clarified the position that the prosecution must be clear about the case they are presenting to juries and must be able to prove what they say they are going to prove.
The Court of Appeal also provided clarification regarding whether the prosecution should be entitled to rely upon the plea of a co-defendant who has pleaded to more serious charges. The Court cautioned that special care must be taken by the prosecution when they rely on a co-defendant’s plea before a jury in such circumstances.”