Will lack of funding block road to justice?

A long-running battle against alleged miscarriages of justice is grinding along slowly, but surely. But, as so many have found before Ralph Christie, a Leeds-born carpet trader turned property developer, a lack of funds severely hampers the process, writes Neil Wilby.

The proceedings in question began with his arrest by West Yorkshire Police in July, 2009. His first appearance at magistrates’ court did not take place until April, 2012. At the time, there were only 3 counts on the indictment linked to just one complainant. In October, 2013, a Greek criminal court exonerated him on much the same wide-ranging charges he was to later face in the United Kingdom.

Convicted in March, 2015 at Bradford Crown Court, on five of nineteen counts upon which he was indicted (read more here), Christie has fought the State every step of the way since. He was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for fraud by false representation offences, but was cleared by the jury of theft and perverting the course of justice allegations, and released on licence in January, 2018.

The sentence, less days spent on remand, would have been finally completed earlier this month, but there remains an unconcluded issue over a licence recall (read more here).

Ralph Christie was largely based in Crete from 2003 and moved there permanently with his family in 2006. A year earlier he had his first one million euro deal on his books, the purchase of 8 houses in Almyridia. He holds a Greek residency permit.

The total value of the charges on the Bradford indictment amounted to 55 million euros; ultimately the amount ordered to be recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act, before interest, is less than 500,000 euros. Codenamed Operation Laggan, it is the most spectacularly failed fraud investigation in the history of the police service.

Not one officer involved with it, including those who either acted upon or told blatant lies, or were party to them, faced any disciplinary sanction, most have retired, one has ‘failed upwards’ and is presently a serving deputy chief constable with another police force.

With the benefit of the services of an enthusiastic trainee lawyer from Copenhagen, Edward Marotis, draft Grounds of Appeal have now been formulated over a period of many months and hundreds of hours of painstaking research. These have been submitted for appraisal by a leading criminal appeal solicitor in London.

The legal position at present is a route to justice can only follow one well trodden path. An appeal to the Court Of Appeal to quash the convictions. The Grounds for Appeal must disclose either new evidence or fresh legal argument. The court does not permit a re-run of the trial at which a defendant was convicted.

There are, however, a number of high hurdles blocking the way. Firstly, Ralph Christie has to persuade the appellate bench that his appeal can be heard ‘out of time’. That is to say, not made within 28 days of the sentencing. Over six years have elapsed and it is unlikely that the senior judges will be persuaded, notwithstanding the complex and unusual circumstances surrounding the case.

If permission is refused, that would then clear the way for an application to be made to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) using much the same evidential materials and legal argument. It is a pre-condition of such an application that a refusal has been issued out of the Court of Appeal. There are ‘exceptional circumstances’ that over-ride that rule but, again, it is unlikely that the threshold is met in the Christie case.

Only a small percentage of applications make it though to a referral back to the appeal court. The test applied by the CCRC in deciding whether or not to refer a case to the Court of Appeal is known as the ‘real possibility‘ test. This is derived from section 13 of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995. Anecdotally, it is harder to secure a referral via the CCRC back to court than it is to persuade the court, ultimately, to quash the convictions). But, for their part, the criminal justice watchdog can point to some recent notable successes, not least the troubling ‘Angel of Death’ case of Colin Norris (another in a long line of West Yorkshire Police miscarriages of justice), the Stockwell Six and the large (and increasing) number of Post Office Horizon victims.

But the biggest hurdle of all for Ralph Christie is securing funding that will finance the criminal appeal lawyer and specialist barrister needed to finesse the work produced, so far, by Edward Marotis. It is a familiar story for so many ill-served by the criminal justice system and the destruction of legal aid funding by the present Government.

For Christie it is particularly acute as all his assets remain frozen, even after completion of his sentence. This is hampering his ability to raise funds by rebuilding the property development business that was totally destroyed by the actions of the police in the UK a full six years before he faced trial in Bradford.

If the criminal appeal succeeds West Yorkshire Police faces, potentially, its largest ever civil claim. Which may explain, in part at least, their determination to disadvantage the Christie family at every turn.

Page last updated at 1355hrs on Wednesday 21st July, 2021.

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.

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Published by Neil Wilby

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

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