The counts of Monte Christie

Over the years, no force in the United Kingdom matches West Yorkshire Police (WYP) for sub-optimal criminal investigations, and the high profile miscarriages of justice that flow from their routine incompetence, and, in some cases, blatant dishonesty.

The known history dates back to just after their formation, in 1974, with the infamous cases of Stefan Kizsko and Judith Ward, both of whom were callously fitted up for crimes they didn’t commit.

A feature of both the Kizsko and Ward miscarriages of justice, and many others since, is confirmation bias. In other words, starting off an investigation with a pre-formed concept that a suspect is guilty, and only, it seems, considering evidence which supports that hypothesis.

The case of Ralph Christie is no Stefan Kizsko, that is for sure, but he was sentenced to 7 years in prison, following an eight week jury trial, at Bradford Crown Court, in March 2015. Those court proceedings had been preceded by a WYP investigation, codenamed Operation Laggan, that had stretched as far back as July, 2009. It is strongly argued by Christie that such confirmation bias was present in his own case.

Non-disclosure of key documents to the defence, by the police and prosecution, also features strongly. As it does in every other miscarriage of justice case involving WYP.

Coercion of prosecution witnesses by the police is, regrettably, also present in this troubling case.

Leeds-born Christie was found guilty by the Bradford jury of five counts of fraud by false representation, but NOT GUILTY of fourteen other counts of fraud by false representation, converting criminal property and perverting the course of justice.

On two of the counts, his co-accused, John Jessop, was also cleared and left court without a stain on his character.

All the charges on the indictment concerned investments in land and construction projects that were at various stages of development in Crete, where Christie had settled in 2004 and started his property developing business three years earlier.

Operation Laggan was launched following a complaint made to the police, in early July 2009, by a business associate of Christie, Stephen Thomas, who had, at first, invested in the early Christie projects in Crete, then partnered him in at least one of the later developments. Thomas has always denied being a business partner of Christie, but a notarised document lodged in 2007, in the Public Finance Office at Chania, Crete clearly shows otherwise.

Ralph Christie was, at the time of the Thomas complaint, already known to WYP by way of criminal intelligence passed by him to the police, via his brother Cedric, who was a detective inspector in the same force. That intelligence, it is said, spawned a police operation, codenamed Godstone, that led to the conviction of a number of drug dealers. Two years earlier, Cedric Christie had received a judge’s commendation for his investigative work on Operation Folkestone. That investigation also concerned drug dealing in the same West Yorkshire town of Halifax, from which Ralph Christie had also operated a successful flooring business for many years.

From the outset, it appears that the WYP officers principally involved in Operation Laggan, Detective Constable Charles Skidmore and Detective Inspector Stephen Taylor decided that Ralph Christie was guilty of something – they appeared unsure of what – and, seemingly, only considered material that supported that proposition. Or took actions that were, taken at their face, calculated to damage the reputation of their suspect and encourage other complainants to come forward. Their starting point was that Christie owned no land or property in Crete and that he was operating a multi-million pound Ponzi, or Madoff, scam.

Whether it was a coincidence, or not, within days of the Thomas report to WYP, Greek tax authorities raided the Christie family home in Crete and took away all documents, electronic records. Some of those records related to a trading style called Monte Crete, which was to feature strongly in the Laggan investigation and whose website is still functional today.

After the Greek raid, Christie was called in to have ‘an informal chat‘ with WYP detectives at the end of the same month. It turned out to be rather more intrusive than that.

Christie was exonerated by the tax inspectors in November, 2009. Shortly after that notification, he was interviewed, arrested and bailed by WYP. He remained on bail until the conclusion of his criminal trial in March, 2015.

Laggan was, on any independent view, a grotesque, six-year failure that cost well over £1 million of taxpayer funds. Potential prosecution witnesses were harassed and, in one case, ‘blackmailed‘ by the police according to an email he sent to Christie immediately after, reluctantly, giving a statement. One was summonsed to give evidence by deposition at Calderdale Magistrates Court. Another was threatened with a charge of perverting the course of justice if he didn’t give evidence against Christie. There is an email  trail between DI Taylor and the witness, a well respected, successful Halifax businessman, that clearly spells this out. The witness stood his ground and there was no prosecution.

The witness, whose evidence eventually resulted in Christie being sent to prison, had to be formally summoned to court following an application by the Crown. He appeared as neither defence nor prosecution witness.

In March 2014, the ex-wife of Stephen Thomas, Jane, was issued with an undated harassment warning by Sergeant 6215 James Firth, on behalf of DI Taylor, after she presented the latter with a comprehensive bundle of documents, evidence that set out alleged criminal offences against Thomas. Those allegations have never been the subject of investigation by WYP. It appears, to the independent reviewer, that it did not, and does not, fit the police agenda.

The entire Laggan investigation will be the subject of a forensic dissemination in a separate article to this one.

A further article will look at the role of Ralph’s brother, Cedric. Who turned from his biggest supporter – including via TV, radio, press interviews and a website substantially devoted to the case – to assisting the police in procuring complainants against his elder brother. After contact from Cedric Christie in 2014, some key defence witnesses migrated away from that position. Those actions had a profound effect on the outcome of the trial.

From the date of Ralph Christie’s first police interview in July 2009, it took almost three years for WYP, and the Crown Prosecution Service, to take the case before magistrates’ court in April 2012, where there were three charges. The most serious involving 300,000 euros, of which 85,000 was resting in a bank account, frozen following a request by WYP to Interpol, in October, 2009. This freezing of bank accounts, assets, took place before Christie was arrested, or charged. A matter that was not before the jury at the Bradford trial. Relevant documents were not disclosed to defence counsel, until the last week of the trial.

Another three years later, in January 2015, and, largely, after the intervention of his younger brother, Christie was facing nineteen charges at Crown Court. The court heard that the offences were committed between March 2007 and May 2009.

In between the magistrates’ and crown court appearances, in October 2013, Ralph Christie had been exonerated in a Greek trial covering much the same matters that were tried in Bradford. A certified translation of the court’s judgment can be found here:

The main prosecution witness was the same Stephen Thomas, who had complained to WYP in 2009. He did not give evidence in the Greek trial. Neither did the second prosecution witness, Susan Watt. Thomas was not produced by the prosecution at the Bradford trial, either. Watt did give evidence there but, from the press seats at least, was an unimpressive witness. She admitted in the witness box that she had provided a glowing reference for Christie in order to encourage investors, later claiming that it was false when she wrote it.

The genesis of the Greek criminal trial was a civil claim made by Thomas against Christie. The proceedings were changed to criminal, by the Greek authorities, after they received a seventy-three paragraph letter from the Head of Advocacy, CPS Central Fraud Unit in London, David Levy. That letter, dated 11th February, 2011, believed to have been drafted by DC Skidmore, and signed off ‘blind’ by Mr Levy, now stands discredited. It contained a large number of errors, misrepresentations and in some paragraphs, falsehoods. Inadvertent, or otherwise.

A civil trial between Christie and Thomas, in which the former seeks to recover substantial property assets in Crete from Thomas, is listed to be heard in Chania in March 2019.

As a category C prisoner, Ralph Christie served a total of 34 months in five different UK prisons: HMP Leeds, Doncaster, Hatfield Lakes, Lindholme, Sudbury. It would be true to say that, in spite of being a model inmate, well-liked by the majority of prison staff, Christie was constantly messed around by the authorities for no apparent reason. Other than routinely protesting his innocence.

He had previously served eight months in a Greek jail which counted towards the sentence.

In April, 2018, three months after his release from prison, on licence, Christie was back at Bradford Crown Court for a final Proceeds of Crime Act (commonly known as POCA) hearing. It was before the same judge who presided over the criminal trial, HHJ Durham Hall. The police were claiming over £1.6 million, the judge made an order for £480,000, plus interest. The part of the section 16 POCA application to recover funds connected to the charge that led to him being jailed, rather than a suspended sentence, was dismissed by the judge. This concerned an investment made by a blue chip company that at the time of the criminal trial was valued at £1.1 million.

The four remaining counts that comprised the POCA award against him are still the subject of bitter dispute, with Christie maintaining, staunchly, that those convictions are unsafe. He has, whilst in prison and since his release, compiled a detailed timeline connected to a substantial archive of information, and documents, that certainly add force to that view.

Upon his release from jail, Ralph Christie instructed Peters and Peters, solicitors, of Fetter Lane, London to prepare an application and statement of grounds for the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC).

The first hurdle to overcome is that the Bradford conviction has never been tested before the Court of Appeal. It requires ‘exceptional’ circumstances for the CCRC to allow an appeal application to be filed with them if the case has not already been rejected by the law lords.

The second is one of time, CCRC cases are now taking as long as six years before any referral to the Court of Appeal.

The third is that only a very small proportion of cases considered by the CCRC actually make it to the appellate court, where the threshold for overturning convictions from the lower courts is very high indeed. A separate article will cover, in detail, the grounds for the Christie appeal.

This is a story that is set to run for a considerable time yet and, in the meantime, Ralph Christie seeks to resume his home life in Crete and re-build business relationships upon which his earlier success on the island was founded.

I am determined to correct the wrongs done to me by the criminal justice system in the UK. I have never been convicted of any offences here in Greece, in what I now regard as my home country“.

Ends

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 3rd October, 2018 at 0945 hrs

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Author: Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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