‘You couldn’t make it up’

Screenshot 2022-10-13 at 08.10.01

On this day nine years ago, 14th October, 2013, a criminal trial, alleging large scale fraud, opened at the picturesque courthouse in Chania, Crete. A notable event as Greece’s largest island is a popular tourist destination with exceptionally low levels of crime

The stakes were high as the defendant, Ralph John Christie, 52 years old at the time and pictured above, faced up to 20 years in a Greek jail if found guilty. It is fair to say that the prison regime there is much more harsh than in the UK, a fact to which Christie, although born and raised in Yorkshire, a Crete resident since 2005, could attest as he had spent eight months on remand in prisons in Vamos and Chania prior to the hearing.

In the event, and as well rehearsed elsewhere on this Neil Wilby Media website (read more here), Ralph Christie, amidst joyous scenes amongst family, friends and supporters, was acquitted. The 34 page written judgment handed down by the three senior judges who had heard the evidence and submissions at the trial was emphatic: The complainant, Stephen Thomas, a Bradford based businessman, was, at all material times, a business partner in the Christie property development enterprises A fact he had sought to conceal from both the Greek authorities and West Yorkshire Police when claiming that he had been defrauded of 1,156,000 euros.

It was also heard in submissions that Stephen Thomas, introduced in April, 2006 by his younger brother, Simon Thomas, a long term friend of Ralph, had sought to conceal £3,500,000 from divorce settlement negotiations with Stephen’s ex-wife by way of his investments in property in Crete. No rebuttal evidence was offered as Thomas elected not to attend the criminal trial and it appears that he has never returned to island since (read more here). Stephen has always maintained that his divorce settlement with Jane was entirely proper, a matter hotly disputed by the latter.

After the court heard from prosecution and defence witnesses, Ralph Christie’s own witness evidence, and the reading into the record of his lawyer’s documentary submissions, Petros Boss, Deputy Prosecutor of the Court of Appeal, invited the three judges to acquit. A far cry from the position adopted by his prosecuting colleague, Irini Hrusogiani, only five months earlier when rejecting an application to vary bail conditions. This is what she had to say at the time:

“He was arrested 17/2/2013 and he has been held since. He even admits in his application that in May 2011 he left for his country, Great Britain, therefore breaking one of the restrictive measures. By breaking all the restrictive measures made it obvious that there is a danger he will commit new crimes and will not appear before the court”.

“Based on his behaviour described above it is judged if he is set free it is highly likely he will commit new crimes”.

“Therefore his temporary imprisonment is totally necessary. Restrictive measures will not guarantee he will appear before court or prevent more crimes”.

The full judgment of the Chania trial can be read here.

That acquittal, however, was far from the end of the matter for Ralph Christie and he was tried before a jury in Bradford Crown Court in a trial that opened in January, 2015 and concluded almost eight weeks later with guilty verdicts on five of nineteen counts on the indictment.

The transition from picturesque Chania to the rather more austere setting of a city well known for race riots and grooming gangs is one worthy of several chapters of a crime novel. In the Bradford vernacular, ‘You couldn’t make it up’.

On 24th December, 2013, after returning to the UK, Ralph Christie was arrested and detained by West Yorkshire Police at his wife, Jane Snowball-Christie‘s home in Ripon, North Yorkshire over allegations of perverting the course of justice. This was regarding contact with what WYP said were material witnesses in a meandering, long running investigation that had commenced in 2009.

To cut a long story short, Ralph was ultimately cleared by a jury in Bradford of this charge. He maintains that it was a device used by the police to take him ‘out of the picture’ during a crucial period in which he was making significant strides in getting to the bottom of what was being levelled at him by WYP and the changing stances of a number of key witnesses.

At the conclusion of the Greek trial and, indeed, at a bail hearing before HHJ Roger Thomas QC, on 9th January, 2014, there was, after what was then a four year investigation, a single transaction involving the misappropriation of 300,000 euros with which Ralph Christie was charged.

West Yorkshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, even after that lengthy passage of time, couldn’t actually decide whether the offence was theft, fraud by false representation or handling criminal property so they included all three on the indictment. They both also appeared to overlook the fact that 86,000 euros was lying in a Pancreatic Bank account that they had frozen in October, 2009 and 100,000 euros had been contracted in a final payment for another hotel development known as St George’s.

The senior CPS barrister, Andrew West, who features centrally in this and other peripheral, but notably serious, matters involving, mainly, Stephen Thomas’ wife, Jane Thomas, told the judge that a trial was listed for 28th April, 2014 to deal with the alleged 300,000 euros fraud (or theft or handling criminal property).

Mr West, on the all the evidence in this case, not a stickler for detail, did, in fact, confuse euros with pounds in his submissions. A point borne out, most notably, in other submissions to the court during the same hearing that included the claim that WYP had initially investigated an alleged fraud by Ralph Christie to the value of £3,500,000. An overstatement of the small matter of over £2,500,000.

Another example of inattention by both the CPS (and the police) is that Ralph Christie had been  charged with perverting the course of justice in December, 2013 by contacting Benedict Clarke when, in fact, the contact was with his brother, Matthew. Whom at that time was always going to be a defence witness, a fact of which WYP had been made repeatedly aware.

Of much greater concern, Mr West’s submissions regarding the trial that had taken place in Chania less than three months earlier, either inadvertently or otherwise, appear not to be borne out by that court’s written judgment. In summary, he says ‘Mr Thomas did not attend the trial and the trial went ahead without Mr Thomas and Mr Christie was, perhaps not surprisingly, acquitted’.

What Mr West does not make clear to the Crown Court in Bradford is that the Greek judges had adjourned the trial once (on 27th September, 2013) entirely for the benefit of Stephen Thomas (and another prosecution witness, Susan Watt) so that they could attend on the resumed date (14th October, 2013). Moreover, and more significantly, it is clear from the court’s published findings that Ralph Christie would have been acquitted whether those two prosecution witnesses were present, or not. A proposition very fairly advanced by Ralph Christie’s own legal team and supporters as the real reason those two prosecution witnesses did not turn up.

Mr West, irrespective of his overarching duty to the court, must have had his own reasons for concealing that fact from HHJ Thomas. It is very difficult indeed to believe that he had not read the Chania  court’s judgment or, at the very least, had a report back from either a witness to those proceedings or a fellow lawyer directly involved in them.

Mr West, during that same 9th January, 2014 hearing in Bradford was also at pains to inform the judge that Ralph’s brother, Cedric Christie, had ‘changed sides’:

“I was coming towards the end of my preparation about this case. The last significant piece of evidence or piece of material I should put before your Lordship is this. Mr [Ralph] Christie has always said that this [allegation of fraud] is part of a plot by West Yorkshire Police to discredit him and his brother. His brother is a former senior police officer with West Yorkshire Police, a man called Cedric Christie.

“And, in fact, for quite a significant amount of time, Cedric Christie has supported Ralph Christie in his belief that this is what is going on, that this is a plot by West Yorkshire Police against him.

“It has now changed and as the Crown understands it Cedric Christie and Ralph Christie have fallen out”.

This was a another remarkable statement by the errant Crown lawyer for several reasons: Firstly, counsel are not permitted to give evidence in court proceedings; secondly, even if they were, what Mr West had to say, one assumes, was at its highest, hearsay. Unless, of course, Cedric and he were in direct contact by this point. Thirdly, that the CPS may have been in direct contact with at least one defence witness would clearly have been news to Ralph Christie and his own lawyers. Fourthly, it was Cedric, not Ralph, who had founded, and always promoted, the WYP ‘out to get us’ conspiracy.

In the face of a series of artful prosecution submissions, release from remand at HMP Leeds (formerly known as the notorious Armley Jail) was refused at the January hearing, and at another one heard in February in the same court. But conditional bail was, eventually, granted at a further hearing on 2nd April, 2014 with Ralph Christie’s movements restricted to North Yorkshire; reporting to Ripon police station at agreed intervals; his passport surrendered; and restraint on who he could contact in connection with his impending trial (which, tellingly, were precisely the bail conditions proposed by his own barrister, Victoria Swain-Smith, at the January hearing).

On 17th April, 2014, Andrew West, operating from the CPS North West offices in Manchester, contacted Ralph Christie’s lawyers, London-based ITN Solicitors, out of the blue with a revised timetable for contemplated proceedings that involved vacating the trial date for the 28th of that month.

It was the very first indication, in a Crown-led police investigation, about to enter its sixth year, that more than one Crete property transaction was under scrutiny and may lead to additions to the indictment.

It is very probably no coincidence that Cedric Christie had returned from Crete, following the second of two satellite investigations he conducted on the island, in the early part of 2014 just a week before the West communication with ITN.

Added to that significance is the fact that, according to Cedric, no officer from West Yorkshire Police had ever been to Crete during the entirety of the investigation into Ralph Christie. That is still the case, as far as anyone knows.

Moreover, Cedric, from his highly informed standpoint as a former team leader in the force’s Economic Crime Unit, asserted in an email dated 12th April, 2014 to Matthew Clarke, a key prosecution witness, that ‘WYP still haven’t a clue what they are doing, even after all these years‘. As Ralph wryly observes, that was just about the only thing that Cedric did get right during this fateful period. WYP’s investigation, codenamed Operation Laggan, remains the largest failed fraud investigation (55 million euros alleged) in the history of the British police service.

The first of the Cedric Christie ‘investigations’ in 2014 took place in Crete between 12th and 19th January. He was accompanied by another former officer, Andrew Watt, better known to former WYP colleagues by his force nickname of ‘Spot’.

In a one sided operation, they went to a development known as ‘Zakros’, where they spoke to the vendor’s solicitor, Manolis Veradakis, and representatives, but didn’t speak to Ralph’s solicitor, Yannis Papatsakonas, They were told, erroneously and catastrophically, that no-one had heard of Stephen Thomas, had never met him and that Ralph had all the money invested, 1.8 million euros, in Zakros returned to him in 2008.

The reality was this: Stephen Thomas, in a notarised deposition, lodged with the Greek court in 2009, stated that he had been to Zakros with Ralph, had met the vendor’s representatives and Stephen personally invested over 300,000 euros in Zakros as late as April and May, 2009.

Significantly, Cedric had invested money himself in Zakros in July 2008 and had it returned to him, with interest, in October, 2008. A working hypothesis is that WYP, despite three years earlier clearing him of misconduct in an internal investigation, was threatening him with criminal proceedings over his Zakros investment.

His Greek cousin, Jason Stamos, who accompanied Cedric and Spot to Zakros, was instrumental in this development becoming an investment vehicle with Ralph and Stephen Thomas as the founding partners, in February, 2008, when the first 1,000,000 euros cheque was written out and honoured in front of both sets of lawyers in Agia Nikolias.

It is almost incomprehensible that two experienced, retired police officers could have been so wrong if they had approached their investigation with an open mind and as a search for the truth.

But the Keystone Cop blunders didn’t end there:  Between 2nd April and 9th April, 2014 Cedric Christie returned to Crete returned for a second bite of the cherry. This time accompanied by his nephew, Declan Christie, Ralph’s son, acting as guide and interpreter visits were made to the sites of two other key development projects.

The first port of call was Bali, between the more well known Cretan cities Rethmynon and Heraklion, where they spoke to what Cedric believed to be the vendor (or spokesman thereof) for the large land deal valued at 9,000,000 euros. Declan introduced this person to Cedric, as Ralph’s son had been heavily involved in this deal since January, 2009 and it is difficult to conceive how the mistaken identity could have occurred.

Extraordinarily, Cedric was told that there had never been any monies invested in Bali by Ralph in 2009. The reality being: In March, 2009, 600,000 euros was deposited in cash with Nikos Nikolakis who was acting as lawyer for both vendor and purchaser (not an unusual situation in Crete). Of which 400,000 euros was receipted upon request on behalf of one of the key investors, Howard Tenens Ltd, by Nikos in April 2009. The other 200,000 euros was deposited in cash by Ralph Christie on behalf of three other investors.

The focus of the April venture then moved to a part-developed hotel site, south of Rethmynon known as the Plakias Palace project which WYP had dropped from their investigation in May, 2010 at the behest of the officer in the case, Detective Constable Charles Skidmore.

For reasons that are still unclear, Cedric and Declan Christie decided to ignore the previous police position and plough on with their own probe.

Whilst looking further into the Plakias Palace project, they spoke to Jason Stamos about possible fraud by Ralph and also contacted Stefan Veradakis (a chartered accountant in Crete and later to be a prosecution witness in a trial at Bradford Crown Court) about how much was actually paid into the investment scheme in 2008. At the conclusion of those discussions, Cedric had formed the view that Ralph had defrauded his investors, the basis of which is still unclear over eight years later.

What is clear is that it was heard in evidence by Mr Veradakis, via video link, at the Bradford Crown Court trial, and accepted in full by the jury, that although there was just 730,000 euros on contracts (for tax purposes) the actual purchase price of 1,200,00 million plus paying off loan of 468,000. Totalling 1.68 million euros, which is exactly as Ralph had always asserted since his first interview with WYP in July, 2009.

Cedric Christie had dealings also with another prosecution witness, Alan Thompson, who runs a real estate business in Almyrida, near Chania named Dreamcatchers-Crete. It was asserted that a receipt for 570,000 euros involving a development known as Kera Valley Gardens was a forgery. The monies were collectively paid in three instalments in 2007 and 2008 by Stephen Thomas, Mario Cercione (another prosecution witness), Adrian Clark and Ralph Christie.

The reality was: At Bradford Crown Court, Ralph Christie was able to produce probative documentary evidence to support his case that the four investors did in fact pay over the monies as receipted. At the end of his witness box evidence, and under cross-examination from leading defence counsel, Christopher Tehrani QC, Alan Thompson threw his hands in the air and said: ‘You’ve got me there’ and walked out of the witness box.

These various calamitous Cedric Christie-led investigations, whether on behalf of WYP, the CPS or otherwise, would account for THIRTEEN additional counts on the indictment at Bradford Crown Court.

Three counts attributable to Zakros, two at Bali, one at Kera and seven at the Plakias Palace hotel very much appeared to be as a result of those investigations. Not least as WYP, taking Cedric’s assertions at face value, was doing little or no effective investigating of its own motion.

The jury at Bradford Crown Court returned not guilty verdicts on the seven Plakias verdicts; on Zakros two not guilty, one guilty; Kera not guilty; Bali two guilty verdicts.

Those guilty verdicts (three out of thirteen) are still hotly disputed, and Ralph Christie is very confident that they will ultimately be overturned, but the main points to draw from this article are that Cedric Christie embarked on a series of investigations that went against all his police training and experience: He set out with a perception, and an objective, and only gathered evidence that fitted with those.

What happened in the Bradford Crown Court trial, between January and March, 2015, is a matter recorded in considerable detail elsewhere on this Neil Wilby Media website, notably in the very first article written about the Ralph Christie case back in October, 2018 (read here) just two months before his release from prison.

What will happen, from here onwards, will depend to a significant degree on brother Cedric and his own son, Declan. They need to respond to the numerous, perfectly reasonable requests to ‘come clean’ and fill in the gaps in what is not yet known about their satellite, deeply flawed ‘investigations’ in Crete that, taken at their face, completely changed the complexion of the Bradford trial and its ultimate outcome: A seven year prison sentence for Ralph that, it is very arguable indeed, he would not have faced without the interference, and apparent ill-motive, of two of his very closest relatives.

Not to mention, of course, the damage to his business ventures on the island, and the stakeholders and shareholders still nursing losses through fire sales and frozen assets, that are currently estimated, collectively, to be in the region of 30 million euros.

Page last updated Tuesday 18th October, 2022 at 0710hrs

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. 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 Media, 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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