This is the second of two linked articles featuring the innocence claim of Ralph Christie, a Crete-based property developer who was convicted of five fraud offences at Bradford Crown Court in 2015. It focuses on the role of former business associate turned prosecution witness, Susan Watt. The first of the two articles, which sets out the background to the wider case can be read here, writes Neil Wilby.
Mrs Watt, married to a retired police officer, and a founder and former editor of the island’s newspaper, the now defunct Crete Courier, returned to her family roots in Devon some years ago. In 2019, she was appointed as Clerk to Marldon Parish Council, a quiet backwater in the district of South Hams.
By a curious quirk of fate, Leeds-born Ralph Christie also has long-standing family and civic connections in the very same area, encompassing part of the Dartmoor National Park and some of the UK’s most scenic coastline.
That innocuous-looking appointment of Mrs Watt has, subsequently, led to a fierce controversy involving parishioners, her own council, the district council, two county councils, three firms of solicitors, the Probation Service, two police forces hundreds of miles apart and the Greek Consulate thousands of miles away. Two of the parishioners involved in the allegations and counter-allegations are believed to be a serving police officer and a local magistrate.
As is often the case, these matters first surfaced via a whistleblower concerned that the Chairman, and at least some of his fellow councillors, had been hoodwinked over the appointment of their ‘new’ Clerk and that some of her actions relating to contracts and financial matters were questionable. Other issues are centred around alleged bullying and manipulation of elderly, retired councillors.
Mrs Watt robustly denies any wrongdoing and has the support, it appears, for the moment at least, of most of those elected representatives.
A Google search had taken the whistleblower to an article elsewhere on this website, published in October, 2018. It features the Christie case and name-checked Susan Watt (read in full here). She is, plainly, aware of the article and has raised no issue as to its contents at any time since its publication. It is assumed, also, that basic due diligence by the appointing body responsible for filling the Clerk to the Parish Council vacancy will have taken them to the same place. This is the relevant paragraph:
“[Susan] 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.“
Since the criticisms about her role as Parish Council Clerk have surfaced, Mrs Watt has gone to significant lengths in an attempt to defend her reputation. Instructing solicitors to threaten defamation and harassment proceedings against her main critic. She has also reported that same person to Devon and Cornwall Police.
The whistleblower maintains that Council funds were used to deploy those lawyers. Mrs Watt says her husband funded the action, believed to have cost in excess of £3,000 plus VAT.
West Yorkshire Police have become involved, as have the Probation Service in Wakefield, responsible for managing Ralph Christie’s term on licence from prison (read more here). Given what has unfolded since, it is very likely that recent interjection by WYP has come about via contact from Mr and Mrs Watt.
A fake Facebook profile in the name of ‘Jon Fitzgerald’ was set up to covertly contact Christie’s present life and business partner, Gita Gavare. The sole purpose was to smear him. It was originally posted as a female profile, subsequently changed to male. The motive behind this scheme, and the connections with Devon, Crete and politics, dramatically reduces the number of suspects. A comment in similar disparaging terms was left on an online newspaper page the following day, since removed by the publisher in Crete. Its content suggested close knowledge of the criminal trial and consequent prison sentence.
This unpleasant, harassing enterprise was effected just three days after one of the most remarkable public meetings witnessed in a publishing career spanning 40 years: On 23rd March, 2021 what was, propitiously, termed an Extraordinary Meeting of Marldon Parish Council took place.
The first, and main, business item on the published Agenda was enigmatically termed ‘Confidential Matters’. In the event, the item was dealt with, very much in public, thus:
“CHAIRMAN’S COMMENTS: The Chairman [Cllr Gordon Page] explained that Cllr Hawkins [of Devon County Council] had been invited to attend the whole of the meeting as an observer and to participate in the Confidential Matters item on the Agenda. Cllrs present agreed (Cllr Clarke was not present at this time). The Chairman also explained, that due to incidents and situations that had arisen just 15 minutes prior to the meeting starting, it was also agreed that members of the public would be permitted during the Confidential Matters section of the meeting as it was in the public interest to be informed of the seriousness of the current situation.
“The Chairman then proceeded to inform everyone present, that the Clerk, Susie Watt, had been subjected to a sustained and disgusting onslaught of libellous emails, subjected to harassment and malicious communications. This has been ongoing since September 2020 but over the last few weeks the intensity had increased. The perpetrator is a resident of Marldon, who has taken it upon themselves (sic) to defame the Clerk and remove her from office. The situation had now escalated in that the perpetrator had now put Susie’s safety and health in danger, along with that of her family as the threats and malicious emails are now including her daughter and husband.
“The Chairman went on to state that not only had Susie received threats etc., but so had the Parish Council, the Councillors are aware of the perpetrator who has now stated that each Councillor is personally liable for the actions of the Clerk. This is untrue, and it was reiterated, that the Council had every faith in the Clerk’s actions, that she carried out the decisions of the Parish Council only and it was the Parish Council as the Corporate Body that actually had a responsibility to ensure the welfare of its employees, i.e. the Clerk., as such, the Chairman had received an email from the Clerk’s Governing body the [The Society of Local Council Clerks] SLCC’s union the ALCC [Association of Local Council Clerks], which was read out to all, so that it was absolutely clear that they had a duty of care, regardless of the threats to Councillors from the Perpetrator just a few minutes before the meeting started.
“The Chairman then stated that the situation was now in the hands of the Police and in fact, two police forces were dealing with the Harassment. There is crime number for Harassment and malicious communication. The Chairman also, sadly informed the Councillors, that someone within the current Council had informed the perpetrator that there was to be a discussion and a vote as to instructing legal action against the Perpetrator, this was only known to Councillors who are under a legal obligation NOT to discuss legal matters outside of the present Council, its present Councillors and Officers. The Chairman informed all present that it was likely they would, at some point in the near future, be contacted by the Police. The Chairman then requested that all present swear that all present via Zoom link, were on their own and no other persons were present in the room were (sic) their zoom was operational. All Councillors and members of the public raised their hands in agreement.
“The Chairman then requested the Clerk, Susie Watt provide a background [statement]:
“NOTE: No part of the italicised statement from the Clerk should be reproduced or used in any format whatsoever. The statement is within the Minutes of Marldon Parish Council, the Minutes are a Legal Document and can be produced in a Court of Law as evidence”.
“The Chairman then stated for the record, that no names had been used during this any (sic) of the meeting. He then went on to request a show of hands to take forward the need for legal action against the [alleged] perpetrator. The Parish Council had Insurance cover up to £250,000 to cover legal action and the Clerk was instructed to contact the Insurance Company to request assistance. The Chairman also stated that the Clerk’s husband had funded the current action which the Police had advised the Clerk to carry out, this should not have had to come out of the Clerk’s or her husband’s funds as this harassment was aimed at her role as Clerk. It was therefore, RESOLVED by a unanimous named vote to go ahead with legal action. All in favour: Cllrs. Page, Cllr. Ward, Cllr. Oliphant, Cllr. Clarke, Cllr. Hart, Cllr. Sharland and Cllr. Thorp.
“The Chairman thanked everyone and again it was confirmed that the Clerk had the support of the Parish Council”.
The statement of Mrs Watt is reproduced in full on the Marldon Parish Council website and, as such, publicly accessible by anyone (read here). Cllr Page has been asked to explain the purported restriction which appears counter-intuitive and to have no legal standing.
The rest of the pronouncements by the Chairman are muddled, at best, and seem to lack the necessary objectivity, specification, evidence and procedural correctness. Not least by the use of an overly familiar version of Mrs Watt’s given name. During the course of extensive enquiries and interviews – and the scrutiny of many documents containing her name – she has only ever been referred to as Susan or Sue; never Susie.
Viewed neutrally, through the lens of this journalist at least, local democracy appears to have been subverted to allow both the Chairman, and the Clerk, to settle scores with one, or more, critics of the Parish Council. Even if there is merit in what Cllr Page asserts, and no judgement at all is made on that point, the manner in which he sought to deal with the issues looks contrived and wholly unsatisfactory.
Cllr Page, in a series of questions put to him by email, has been asked to back up with evidence the alleged threats, tortious breaches and criminal offences to which he refers in his “Chairman’s Comments”. He has also been asked upon what lawful basis would his fellow Parish Councillors be interviewed as a result of alleged leaks of information that appear to be part of a published meeting agenda.
The questions put to Cllr Page also extend to the interrogatory process applied to Mrs Watt’s lengthy, highly opinionated diatribe (it bears little relation to what a journalist would recognise as a factual, measured, well-evidenced statement). This is relevant because, by reference mainly to materials available in the public domain, the summing up of the Bradford Crown Court trial and the perfected judgment in a Greek criminal trial in which Mrs Watt was also a prosecution witness, it can readily be proved that she has seriously misled the Parish Council, its Chairman and the parishioners whom she purports to serve. Her statement is also, very arguably, defamatory and in breach of the Data Protection Act and General Data Protection Regulations. The jigsaw identification of the persons repeatedly referred to as ‘the Marldon perpetrator’ and ‘the convicted money launderer’ is not at all difficult.
The fact that Mrs Watt sought to link discontented Marldon parishioners with Ralph Christie appears to be a decision entirely of her own making and one, presumably, made with the intention of blackening the names of all by doing so. The Chairman of the Parish Council made no reference to him, even obliquely, in his opening Comments.
It is a decision that she may very well come to regret. Her position as Clerk is now untenable, as is that of the Chairman if he has signed off the minutes of the 23rd March meeting.
There is also the issue of a minute under ‘Confidential Matters’ in the Parish Council meeting that took place on 12th April, 2021 which states that ‘a verbal warning has been given to the [alleged] perpetrator under the Harassment Act’. Firstly, insofar as there is no provision in the Protection of Harassment Act, 1997 for such a warning to be given and, secondly, as at 1st June, 2021 no police action of any description had been taken against the alleged perpetrator, now proofed by those same police, or any other form of legal proceedings served on him/her.
Further enquiries have revealed that the police case was closed on the same day the alleged perpetrator was spoken to, but the actions of the female constable involved are the subject of complaint. The police have also refused to hand over a copy of the case file, even after a data subject access request.
As such, the assertion by the Clerk, Susan Watt, who drafts the minutes and, indeed, is also very likely to have been the source of that very particular piece of information regarding the ‘harassment warning’, is palpably false. It is also, very arguably, defamatory and, it is understood, the subject of legal proceedings against her and the Council.
Again, if the Chairman of the Parish Council has signed off those minutes then neither his, nor the position of his Clerk can sustain.
These are the parts of Susan Watt’s statement, published within the Minutes of the Marldon Parish Council meeting of 23rd March, 2021, that are subject to challenge. They relate solely to the Ralph Christie innocence claim:
(i) She refers to Christie, repeatedly and throughout the lengthy statement, as ‘a convicted money launderer’. The plain fact is that he was acquitted of all money laundering charges at two trials: Bradford in 2015 and in Crete just over a year earlier. Mrs Watt was one of the main prosecution witnesses in both. Neither a Yorkshire jury nor three Greek judges believed her account relating to those same charges.
(ii) She claims that her background and her association with Christie leading up to the trial (she doesn’t specify which) was investigated thoroughly. There is nothing disclosed to the defence team, or the court, at either trial, that supports such an assertion. Conversely, documents read during the course of this journalistic investigation, including her own resignation letters from the Board of one of the main Christie property investment companies, strongly suggest that her association with him was heavily downplayed, both to the courts and other witnesses.
(iii) Ralph Christie robustly disputes her assertion that he, or his wife, sought to persuade Robert Watt to invest some or all of his police pension in Cretan property.
(iv) She told Marldon Parish Council that her background was ‘in grant funding and especially in European Social Funding’. That is different to what she told the jury at Bradford Crown Court, where HHJ Durham Hall noted in his summing up that ‘she had a history in charitable funding’ and that she had said ‘she wasn’t a specialist [in grant funding]. He went on to say: ‘Is she honest, or dishonest, or did she have an axe to grind?’. A question to which Marldon parishioners now, also, need an answer.
(v) She refers to ‘match funding’ of grants provisionally secured from Invest in Greece. Mr Christie says that is not strictly accurate: She had, she said at the time, in early 2009, €19 million ‘ring-fenced’ which needed a further investment of €11 million from a private investor or financial institution for the deal to proceed (not €19 million). A technical point, perhaps, and one in which due allowance must be made for passage of time, but one that demonstrates the cavalier manner in which Mrs Watt has constructed her statement.
(vi) She claims she did not work for Mr and Mrs Christie or any of his, or their, trading entities. In fact, Mrs Watt was paid a total of €33,000 by Bapon AE (€3,000 per month for a period of 11 months). A company with which she was very closely involved, both as a ‘Director’ and ‘Head of Project and EU Funding’. Titles that she allocated to herself. She had also written a glowing reference for Mr Christie, published in the local newspaper, based on their working relationship at the time, in order to encourage investors and grant funding. Six years later, she claimed, before the jury at Bradford, that the same reference was a pack of lies. She also told the jury that she didn’t work for him. This is an image of a page taken from a slide presentation that she prepared in March, 2009 (view in full here). There is also an organogram slide that features her as a Director of the company.
Mrs Watt’s resignation letters sent to Bapon AE state that she resigned in July 2009, although the second letter is dated two months later and she was clearly involved with Ralph Christie in the interim period. A sworn statement of hers, read out at the Greek criminal court, falsely notes the relevant date as May, 2009. The court heard evidence that she was still working in the Christie property empire in November of that year and that she left to take a higher paid job with Stephen Thomas.
It is also clear that Robert Watt attended at least one Bapon AE business meeting. His capacity is not stated in the minutes and action list, drawn up by his wife, dated January, 2009.
The court in Chania heard that Susan Watt had been granted Power of Attorney over the company affairs of Varon AE by Ralph Christie. A document evidencing this was filed and served on the prosecuting counsel. A point not picked up by Christie’s lawyers at the subsequent Bradford trial.
(vii) She claims that Bapon was owned by ‘British ex-pats’, and subject to a number of hurdles before funding could be considered, when, in fact, it was jointly owned by UK resident and her close friend, Stephen Thomas, and Ralph Christie. The latter had passed a ‘fit and proper person test’ as a pre-requisite for the application to Invest in Greece and was the holder of a new passport, personally arranged by Susan Watt at the Athens Embassy.
(viii) She claims that she ‘talked to many officers’ regarding the Christie case. ‘From Interpol, the serious crime squad, the economic crime unit, West Yorkshire Police, the CPS etc’. None of this extensive contact was ever disclosed to the defence teams at either trial and she was presented quite differently, by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), to the jury at Bradford. It has emerged since those trials that she, in reality, acted as quasi-investigator for those agencies, and, apparently, as agent for Stephen Thomas, rather than an objective witness of truth (HHJ Durham Hall described her as ‘an insider’). It also appears that she still has fast and direct access to WYP officers involved in the Christie case and is fed information by them.
(ix) She refers to a jail term of 8 months served by Ralph Christie in a Greek jail, but fails to clarify that this was a remand detention prior to the Greek trial at which he was fully exonerated and, for which, he later received full credit. There is also an an inference, again very arguably defamatory, that there was ‘an attempted break in at our villa and threats by text messages’. Christie asserts that Mr and Mrs Watt did not own a villa in Crete and denies, categorically, any association with the other matters and puts the couple to proof over the allegations. Neither of which has ever been disclosed previously in her extensive accounts to the police or to the prosecution or defence teams at two trials. He also says that the Watts never owned property in Crete and they rented a two bedroomed apartment during their stays on the island.
(x) Similarly, she asserts that ‘an injunction was taken out against [Ralph Christie] and his extended family and was issued from the court in Chania’. Again, this is robustly denied by Christie (and his family). No such restraint has ever been served on them and enquiries are ongoing with court officials in Crete as to the true position. The injunction has never been referred to, previously, by Susan Watt in either of the prosecutions in which she was involved or in her sworn evidence in those proceedings or at any time since.
(xi) She claims that there was a civil trial in Chania in September, 2013. It was, in fact, the criminal trial at which Ralph Christie was acquitted of all charges. She further claims there was one other prosecution witness apart from the complainant, Stephen Thomas, and herself. There were, in fact, two: Neil Waite and Geoffrey Brown. The rest of her account regarding that trial, which was adjourned for 19 days as a result of her non-appearance, is a litany of untruths:
(a) She claims a statement from the British Consul regarding her non-appearance was read out at the start of the September hearing. That is not recorded in what is, by convention, a highly detailed 32 page judgment. The reason she gave for non-appearance, that a window of an apartment where she and Mr Thomas were staying was shaken and there was shouting, in Greek, outside, was not reported to the police in Chania and there has never been a scrap of independent evidence to support her account. More devastatingly for Mrs Watt, her lawyer told the three Greek judges that the shouting was in English.
(b) She claims that she was not obligated to attend the re-constituted October trial ‘after permission was given by the Judge’. That is not what the judgment or transcript records: The September trial had been adjourned to allow Mr Thomas to serve further civil proceedings against Ralph Christie and the same witnesses were all expected to attend the next hearing. Those civil proceedings were not brought before the next hearing, those representing Mr Thomas gave no explanation to the court for their absence and such matters have never been mentioned since.
(c) She claims that ‘as there were no prosecution witnesses there could be no trial and they [the judges] had to declare him innocent’. In fact, as the judgment records, a full trial took place with Messrs Waite and Brown in attendance. The court heard from the latter, but the Public Prosecutor did not call the former. Geoff Brown faced a lengthy examination, cross-examination and questioning from the Court President. Three witnesses gave evidence for the defence; Mr Christie, his architect, Charles Xenakis, and Jason Stamos were cross-examined by the Prosecutor. A large amount of documentary evidence, all itemised in the judgment, was put before the court. In their ruling, unconditionally acquitting Christie, the three Greek judges noted that it was the written materials that were most persuasive. The accounts of Stephen Thomas, and his principal accomplice, Susan Watt, were simply not believed by the court. They had, on the evidence before it, sought to deliberately mislead the judges. Their absence from court was not in any way decisive, apart from they may have faced immediate arrest, by the Greek authorities, on the basis of those false representations. It is understood that neither Mr Thomas nor Mrs Watt has returned to Crete since 2013.
(xii) She claims that her appearance at the Bradford trial ‘was believed to be insignificant’. That runs counter to how the judge summed up the trial for the jury. Set against her own admission that she was the key figure with Interpol, the police, and the CPS, over a number of years, her assertion does not have the ring of truth. Her evidence, which included a witness box admission of her own lack of integrity, was a significant factor in not guilty findings against eight charges on the indictment. All relating to money laundering.
(xiii) She claims that Christie ‘was released on licence in late 2018’. He was, in fact, released on 5th January, 2018. He says further that, as a Greek citizen, he should have been deported in February, 2017.
(xiv) She claims that she ‘unearthed the money laundering [allegedly by Ralph Christie] and went to the Investors, and then when I was sure and informed by the police that there was something wrong, I went straight to the Greek Government as well’. Firstly, and most crucially, her discovery of ‘money laundering’ has been disproved in two jurisdictions 2,000 miles apart. Secondly, there has never been any evidence disclosed of any contact between Susan Watt and the Greek Government (or the Greek police) after the WYP investigation began in Wakefield in 2009.
Taken jointly, or severally, this is a damning catalogue of deceit on the part of Susan Jill Watt. One of the most spectacular ‘own goals’ one will ever see. The matters revealed here will have far reaching repercussions, not just for her and her Chairman, but for the rest of the Parish Council, South Hams District Council, Devon County Council, West Yorkshire Police and Devon and Cornwall Police. All of whom Mrs Watt has dragged, quite deliberately, into this unseemly farrago.
For Ralph Christie, and by way of sharp contrast, it has certainly opened up new lines of enquiry in his quest for the quashing of the five guilty counts at Bradford Crown Court. It has also caused him to further question the apparently flawed relationship between Mrs Watt, her husband, the British Consulate in Greece, West Yorkshire Police and the CPS that lies near the heart of those convictions.
In addition to right of reply already offered to Cllr Gordon Page, a short statement has been requested from the chief executives at South Hams District Council and Devon County Council, the press offices at the two police forces, and the Association of Local Council Clerks.
Mr and Mrs Watt have also been offered right of reply.
The next meeting of Marldon Parish Council is scheduled to take place on Monday 14th June, 2021 (second Monday in the month). It promises to be a higher profile event than might ordinarily be the case. The minutes from the meeting of 4th May, 2021 are not yet published on the Council’s website, neither is the Agenda for the June meeting.
Susan Watt is also Clerk to the Berry Pomeroy Parish Council. A meeting long scheduled for 10th June cannot now take place as the Agenda was not published three clear days before the meeting.
Page last updated: Tuesday 8th June, 2021 at 1045 hrs
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