Exactly six years ago, at the end of the day’s Parliamentary business, Gerry Sutcliffe rose to his feet from the green leather benches to begin his contribution to an adjournment debate on the subject of the John Elam miscarriage of justice case. This is what he had to say:
“I am pleased to see the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims in his place. I do not expect him to be able to respond in detail to the important issues that I will raise, but perhaps while he listens to my speech he will reflect on what advice he can give on the best course of action to take the matter forward.
“The last case that I raised in which I felt a serious injustice had been done was that of Private Lee Clegg, a soldier in Northern Ireland who was convicted of murder. After the intervention of his solicitor, Simon McKay, other Members from both Houses and myself, he was eventually cleared of the crime.
“I want to make it clear that I do not raise these matters lightly. On the whole, our legal system is fair and just. It was with great pleasure and pride that I served as a Minister in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice under the last Government. I therefore raise this case knowing the confines within which Ministers may speak because of operational issues and the legal process. I raise this case this evening because a number of things have happened that have made me want to put it on the record.
“Mr John Elam was convicted of a conspiracy to commit fraud and received a 10-and-a-half-year jail sentence in April 2008. He has now been released on licence. He has always maintained his innocence and has sought to appeal against his imprisonment. He had an appeal in 2010 that was turned down.
“A constituent of mine came to see me to raise his concerns about the safety of the conviction and the role of certain officers in West Yorkshire Police. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Members of Parliament are approached by many people who feel that the legal system has operated against them. Sometimes it is difficult to unravel what the issues really are. As any other constituency MP would do, I wrote to the appropriate Departments and West Yorkshire police, and I contacted Mr Elam’s then solicitors, Keith Dyson and Partners. I also had meetings with the West Yorkshire Police Commissioner [Mark Burns-Williamson].
“My interest was stirred even more when differing accounts of the case emerged. According to West Yorkshire Police, Mr Elam was an international criminal who had connections to the Russian mafia and was involved in money laundering and the drugs trade. However, according to his solicitor, Mr Elam was the victim of police intimidation and a dirty tricks campaign, which included a lack of disclosure at his appeal. I am not a lawyer, so I was unsure what legal avenues were available to resolve the conflicting stories. As MPs do, I asked around, seeking advice and receiving information from many sources. The responses led to my interest in the case deepening further.
“Mr Elam had only one previous conviction, for common assault—he threw a Toby jug at a pub landlord. How did that minor criminal evolve into an alleged international criminal? According to West Yorkshire Police, they were interested in Mr Elam in 2005 and sought approval to have him monitored and placed under surveillance as a dangerous criminal. Operation Teddington was set up, and a very large amount of resources was spent on the process. Covert action was used to monitor the bank accounts of the Medina Trading Company, which consisted of a restaurant and a car wash. Mr Elam has always admitted his involvement with the Medina company and its directors.
“The Yorkshire Bank held the accounts of the Medina company, and an employee of the bank at that time, Mr Richard Shires, passed on information relating to the accounts, and cheques, to DC Mick Casey of West Yorkshire Police, as confirmed by affidavit. During my investigations into the matter, I have submitted a number of freedom of information requests to West Yorkshire Police, through which I have discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires was a serving special constable in West Yorkshire Police at the time the information was passed on. I have also discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires subsequently became a paid constable in West Yorkshire Police and continues to serve to this day. I have tried to discover through a recent freedom of information request whether those Richard Shires were one and the same, but at this time I have not been provided with that information.
“If those Richard Shires were one and the same, there was a clear conflict of interest, and more to the point, the credibility of the information and cheques passed to DC Casey would be called into doubt. I think all would agree that it would never be appropriate for a bank employee who was also a serving special constable to assist with the inquiries of the very same police force he worked for.
“At the trial, the Crown was represented by Mr Jonathan Sandiford. No evidence was given about the wider concerns relating to Mr Elam’s criminal associations. In fact, Mr Sandiford stated: The prosecution case here is that the conspirators sought to conceal the fact that Mr Elam was the true owner of the companies acquiring the business in order to defraud creditors’.
“In summing up the case, His Honour Judge Wolstenholme said to the jury that ‘….what you must do is take the view that, well, something dishonest was going on with one or more of the defendants. They must all have been up to something, even if you are not sure what.’
“Subsequently, Mr Elam was convicted.
“Mr Elam’s case, supported by his legal team, portrays an entirely different account of the chain of events. Mr Elam claims that he was approached in the summer of 2004 by a police officer demanding £150,000 in cash to be paid immediately, and £30,000 annually thereafter. In March 2005, the police investigated Mr Elam’s business practices using the covert name Operation Teddington. It is alleged that, in June 2005, 49 officers were redeployed from the anti-terrorist taskforce to work on Teddington.
“As I said, in September 2005, Richard Shires was a paid employee of the Yorkshire Bank. He accessed bank accounts relating to the Medina restaurant and secured more than 3,000 cancelled cheques. A written affidavit by Mr Shires confirms that he delivered a bundle of those cheques to DC Casey. The Yorkshire Bank also confirms that it never received an order to produce from the courts.
“In 2006, John Elam was arrested, and then the Crown court trial began. Despite a wide-ranging three-year investigation, involving more than 300 officers, Mr Elam faced a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was convicted and served his sentence in HMP Wakefield as a category A prisoner, the highest security level. He had also been treated as a category A prisoner during his time on remand. Mr Elam suffered a stroke in prison and needed external medical support.
“It is my contention that, whatever the true situation, a number of questions remain unanswered and there are a number of public interest concerns. First, was a production order properly served to Yorkshire Bank, and what was the role of PC Shires? Secondly, what was the true cost of Operation Teddington, and were officers diverted from the anti-terrorism taskforce, who at the time were dealing with the 7/7 bombers in West Yorkshire? Thirdly, why was Mr Elam considered to be a category A prisoner, and who was the police officer that demanded money?
“I know the Minister cannot respond directly to individual cases and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will take a fresh look at this case, but I am seriously concerned enough to raise these issues and the fact that, while out on licence, Mr Elam still faces issues related to the recovery of the proceeds of crime. A hearing that was suspended in October is due in February. I have tried to contact West Yorkshire police on a number of occasions about those issues, and I will continue to do so. I was heartened today when I had a more co-operative response from West Yorkshire Police because they knew this debate was taking place, and I hope to take the matter further.
“These are serious allegations and this is a serious case—as I said, I do not usually promote and push issues where I do not feel that a cause needs to be looked at. This is a sensitive case, but it is important that as constituency MPs we raise such matters when they are put to us, and that we try to get the best result for the constituents we represent, particularly where justice and the work of the police are concerned. It must always be held utmost that the police operate in a proper manner and that our legal system is operating at its best.
“I want to put this case on record. I am sure it will not end here and that we will have to deal with other issues. However, I believe that the other bodies involved—they know who they are—should look at this case in greater detail, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.”
The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green) then rose to respond on behalf of the Government:
“I congratulate the Hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) on securing this debate and thank him for recognising at various stages in his speech that I will inevitably be constrained in what I can say in response to the specific points he has raised. He served in a distinguished capacity in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office under the previous Government, so he will recognise that as a Minister in both Departments I am doubly constrained in what I can say. I will, however, respond to his points about miscarriages of justice, applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and police matters.
“Consideration of alleged miscarriages of justice is a matter for the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission, and ultimately for the appeal courts. I am aware that Mr Elam has made an application to the commission. It is therefore not a matter for the Government and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that case on their behalf. I understand that Mr Elam has made a complaint to West Yorkshire Police that is still ongoing and being investigated by the force’s Professional Standards Department. Again, that disqualifies me from commenting on it.
“The Hon. Gentleman mentioned the background to the case, and I understand that Mr Elam and a number of co-defendants were prosecuted as a result of a major operation by West Yorkshire Police. There were a number of criminal trials against Mr Elam and other defendants in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Mr Elam was convicted of offences including assault and conspiracy to pervert justice, conspiracy to defraud, and doing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice. Custodial sentences were imposed following conviction, which have been served, and I understand that Mr Elam has appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal, against sentence on one occasion, which was heard in 2007, and twice against conviction—both those appeals were heard in 2010.
“As I have said, Mr Elam has made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. Its purpose is to review possible miscarriages of justice. Since 31st March 1997, the Commission has operated with the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and refer convictions and sentences to the relevant appeal court for a new appeal. Its remit extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission replaced functions that were previously carried out by the Secretary of State. Parliament established the Commission specifically to be a body that is independent of the Government.
“A Commission review is rightly a long and thorough process. If Mr Elam’s application to the Commission concerns all the criminal proceedings to which he has been subject over a number years, the review will be complex and lengthy.
“It should be noted that the Commission has strong statutory powers to enable it to discharge its functions. It can direct and supervise investigations; approve the appointment of officers to carry investigations on its behalf; and gain access to documents and other relevant materials. I draw the Hon. Gentleman’s attention to the power in section 17 of the 1995 Act, under which the Commission can reasonably require any person serving in any public body to produce to the Commission any document or other material that can assist it in the exercise of any of its functions.
“Of course, “public body” includes the police, so the Commission’s powers pursuant to section 17 operate irrespective of any duty of confidentiality and allow the Commission access to information of the highest sensitivity. Accordingly, as I am sure the House can see, the Commission has the power to obtain and review the papers and materials held by West Yorkshire Police, provided the Commission believes it reasonable to do so, in connection with its review of Mr Elam’s conviction. I hope that that reassures the Hon. Gentleman that, when the time comes, the Commission can access and consider all material relevant to the review of Mr Elam’s application.
“The Commission has confirmed that an application from Mr Elam was received in January 2013. Mr Elam is now at liberty and, as I understand it, the case is not yet under active review. The Commission has informed me that it recently wrote to advise Mr Elam that the estimated date for the allocation of his case for review is January 2015. I appreciate that that is some 2 years after the original application was made and that, given the complexity of the case, it is likely to be some time before an outcome is reached once the review is under way.
“In addition, the commission has explained to me that it operates a system of priority for applicants who are in custody. For cases requiring a substantial review, the review is generally started 12 months earlier when applicants are in custody than when somebody is at liberty. Currently, the wait for those in custody is unduly long. The Commission is concentrating on allocating those cases to reduce the maximum waiting time.
“As I have said, although the Commission prioritises applications from people in custody, I am advised that it has a policy for affording priority to any individual case when appropriate. Perhaps Mr Elam wishes to pursue that, or perhaps the Hon. Gentleman can discuss with Mr Elam whether that is an appropriate course of action in his case. I should take the opportunity to repeat that the Government should not, and indeed cannot, in any way intervene or be seen to be intervening in a matter for the Commission and, if appropriate, the appeal courts.
“On the West Yorkshire Police investigation, I understand from them that Mr Elam’s solicitor contacted them at the end of last year to make a complaint about an officer involved in the 2005 investigation. West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department is currently in correspondence with Mr Elam’s solicitor about the matter and currently awaits a response. As the Hon. Gentleman has said, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Brennan, the Head of the West Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department, has spoken to him and informed him of the sequence of events surrounding the original complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
“The complaint was thoroughly reviewed, and the response was sent on 18 September advising that there was no evidence to support the allegation. A formal complaint was recorded by West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards department and, although Mr Elam and his representatives have been advised that the complaint will be subject to disapplication on two occasions, there has been no response to the letters.
“I understand that the Hon. Gentleman was advised that the process would not stop West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department from taking action on the information, especially if there is a suggestion of misconduct or criminality. I believe that Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan has also offered to meet the Hon. Gentleman to go through any outstanding allegations or suggestions of misconduct. As well as that offer—it is obviously a matter for him to decide whether to take that up—the Professional Standards Department strongly encourages Mr Elam, or any other person, to contact it should they have information that they believe may be relevant or of value. I think that that is all I can appropriately say at this stage.
“If after those stages Mr Elam is not satisfied with how his complaint to West Yorkshire Police was dealt with, or how he was notified of the outcome, he can appeal a decision to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is the statutory guardian of the police complaints system. There are, therefore, further steps that he can take if he wishes to do so.
“The Hon. Gentleman raised three important specific points at the end of his speech. Let me address them as far as I can. The issue of the production order to Yorkshire Bank and the role of Mr Shires is specific to one or more of the criminal cases brought against Mr Elam. If that is a case he has asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider, it will investigate the issues fully. It is therefore not appropriate for me to speculate on them. Information on the costs and diversion of police resources for the purposes of Operation Teddington is an operational matter for West Yorkshire Police, so I refer the Hon. Gentleman to it for the answer to that. On the question of where Mr Elam served his custodial sentences, the decision on which custodial facility a convicted prisoner is sent to is made by the National Offender Management Service. Its decision is informed by information and intelligence from various sources, and the Directorate of High Security has a responsibility to act on that information. It is not within its remit to investigate the details of the information provided by the sources it uses.
“It is clear from the important matters raised by the Hon. Gentleman that there are issues that need to be looked into further. As I have explained, the relevant and appropriate bodies are looking into those matters now. I therefore think that the sensible way forward is to allow the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to take its course. I hope that that satisfies the important points raised by the Hon. Gentleman.
Damian Green sat down at 5.18pm having given a polished and, patently, well briefed response, 22 minutes after the debate opened. The obvious, and legitimate question, is what has happened since? Is everything as straightforward as he makes out with regard to the various statutory bodies and the police in their treatment of miscarriage of justice victims and did the case pan out as he said it would. What follows here is a damning condemnation of all four: The Criminal Case Review Commission, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, West Yorkshire Police and Mr Green himself.
Green was later sacked by Prime Minister, Theresa May, as First Minister after he admittted making misleading statements following the discovery of pornography found on his Commons computer in 2008. Those listening to the swish sound of whitewash being smoothly applied during his response to Gerry Sutcliffe wouldn’t have been too surprised at this turn of events. Mrs May was, of course, Green’s ‘boss’ at the Home Office at the time of the adjournment debate. She did not call for a review of any matters with which he had been involved as a result of his admission of dishonesty.
Other allegations raised against him by Kate Maltby, were found to be “plausible”, but no definitive conclusion could be reached about them as a result of “the competing and contradictory accounts” of the Minister and a female family friend who is nearly 30 years his junior, regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Mrs May was heavily critical of the police in the way they carried out the raid on Green’s parliamentary office in 2008, when the pornography was discovered. One might fairly say that the former Home Secretary was not quite so robust when members of the public were victims of unlawful, high-handed and/or heavy-handed treatment by cops.
The first port of call for a member of the public having difficulties with the police should be his elected policing representative, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), voted in by the public for that very purpose. Regrettably, the PCC for West Yorkshire is Mark Burns-Williamson, one of the worst in the country, in a field of plenty. His approach throughout the Elam fight for justice has been nothing short of disgraceful: He firstly lobbied his Labour colleague, Gerry Sutcliffe, to drop his involvement with the miscarriage of justice case. Burns-Williamson then, as he invariably does in other complaint cases, simply adopted the police postion without making independent enquiries: So, in the PCC’s eyes, Elam is a notorious Russian mafia gangster and unworthy of the assistance of the officer paid to perform that function. But when asked by Mr Sutcliffe to provide evidence, or substantiation, of that position he could provide none. In fact, he refused to answer correspondence.
For a series of investigations into John Elam and others, that Gerry Sutcliffe believed had cost, in total, approaching £100 million of taxpayers money, and, at times, occupied up to 300 officers, the PCC ought really have been a great deal more rigorous in challenging the police narrative.
As far as West Yorkshire Police is concerned, their treatment of John Elam continues to be highly questionable. Despite almost ten years of intensive covert surveillance, of the most intrusive nature one can imagine, there was not one scrap of evidence that he fits their bizarre description as an international drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia gangster produced at his trials. Despite many requests from Elam, his legal representatives, his MP’s, there has not been any evidence of the same genre produced in the intervening 11 years, either. Which makes the Burns-Williamson stance even more inexplicable.
He looks a long, long way from that, sloshing about on a brownfield construction site in Bradford in torrential rain on a cold, sleeting December morning rallying his workers from the front. Yet still the police pursue him; smearing him with banks and professional associates, making life as difficult as they possibly can to put his undoubted, almost unequalled, business acumen to use as a property developer. Very few would be able to start with less than nothing, from gypsy stock, and legitimately turn that into a £multi-million fortune.
There is also this troubling whiff of racism, and all the resentment infecting people of such unpleasant disposition, that appears to permeate into almost all of WYP’s actions. Is it the gypsy blood and the ability to wheel and deal, making ‘easy money’ by putting ‘back to back’ land packages together that gets their goat?
One senior WYP officer is alleged to have said at the time of the Sutcliffe adjournment debate: “How did that gypsy f****r get his case on the telly like that”.
Every complaint made on behalf of John Elam (he is in the later stages of his life, having made and lost several fortunes, getting to grips with reading and writing) is airily batted away by the police. Then kicked further into the long grass by the thoroughly disgraced IPCC (now the similarly disgraced IOPC). Aided and abetted by a police complaints system deliberately re-designed, in 2011, to hamper the public at every turn.
Two long-serving officers turned up to meet Elam at Gerry Sutcliffe’s office in Bradford in 2014, Simon Bottomley and Osman Khan. Both DCI’s at the time, who have gone on to be Heads of PSD at WYP. Bottomley is the present incumbent, having succeeded Khan last year. Both have a chequered history amongst those members of the public who have had the misfortune to complain against their local police force. Their disposition towards John Elam and Mr Sutcliffe was agressive and confrontational throughout. They had turned up in place of Andy Brennan, who had done a ‘moonlight flit’ and left WYP shortly before he was due to meet with the MP and Elam, as Damian Green had indicated he would. When Elam spoke to Brennan by phone he could offer no explanation for his ‘retirement’ from WYP. The meeting produced nothing of use to the fight for justice. The barriers were up and stayed up.
The stigma of the 7/7 bombings, and the effect of the withdrawal of WYP’s specialist counter-terror officers onto what appeared to be an almost wholly disproportionate vendetta, also rankles deeply with the force’s hierarchy. Further discrediting Elam is one of the only ways they can salve their conscience after 56 people died at the hands of three radicalised suicide bombers from Leeds, and one from Kirklees.
The CCRC did, eventually respond in April, 2016, three years and three months after the submission of the Elam appeal to them. Their detailed findings, and the flaws inherent within them, including what appears strongly as ‘verification bias’ and a lack of basic investigative rigour will be the subject of a separate, but linked, article on this troubling miscarriage of justice case.
The CCRC provided no satisfactory answers on the key issues concerning:
(i) Richard Shires and his dual and contemporaneous role with Yorkshire Bank and WYP.
(ii) The provenance of the Production Order which took nine years for WYP to eventually produce (in the end to Gerry Sutcliffe) and the Yorkshire Bank are adamant was never served on them at any time.
(iii) The true status of the alleged police informant, Andrew John Rudd. Whom it is said was acting as agent provocateur.
(iv) The classification of John Elam as a Category AA prisoner. Extraordinarily, and quite independently as an investigative journalist, I have obtained access to that information and about which there will be a seperate article naming the officer who provided what appears to be false and malicious information to HMP’s Director of High Security.
(v) The identity of the police officer who turned up at John Elam’s home in Scarcroft and demanded £150,000 in cash up front, and £30,000 per annum thereafter, ‘to make your [John Elam’s] problems go away’. No enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of the film from a covert camera situated in a bird box in a tree opposite (in the garden of a former Leeds United goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn).
(vi) The continued smearing of him as a very serious organised drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia criminal, absent of even the smallest scrap of evidence.
What they did do, incredibly, was have at least one face-to-face briefing with West Yorkshire Police, the very organisation whose serious, and proven, wrongdoing was at the heart of the Elam CCRC appeal. It appears to have escaped the attention of the CCRC that WYP has the worst record of any police force in the country when it comes to serious, high profile miscarriages of justice. Dating back to the 1970’s and the deeply shocking Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward cases (read more here). They are a police force that simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth or not tamper with evidence and/or witnesses. That is not fanciful speculation, it is an inalienable fact.
Most crucially, what they CCRC didn’t do was exercise their extraordinary powers to obtain disclosure independent of the police and prosecution filters or barriers. If they had, they would have discovered, as I have done, that covert surveillance on John Elam began accidentally in 1998 when an operation (my informant who worked on the case cannot recall the name) was mounted in East Leeds targetting other persons of interest to the police. Elam was a business associate of one of them. West Yorkshire Police say they have not been able to trace the operational name either, despite very specific information being provided to them that should make it a straighforward task
An operation that followed, codenamed Primary, did target John Elam but yielded nothing after three years of intensive, intrusive surveillance as they tried to link him to WYP’s ‘most wanted man’, Dennis Slade. A career armed robber whom the police fitted up in 2010 for a murder conspiracy he wasn’t part of. There was never any connection to find between the two men, socially or in business dealings, except for a fleeting introduction in a Leeds pub one evening. Slade’s conviction on that murder count was quashed by the Court of Appeal and the charged dropped one week into the re-trial in April, 2019 (read more here).
West Yorkshire Police misled Damian Green when they stated that surveillance on John Elam only began in 2005. It would have seriously harmed their case if the obsessive vendetta had been found to have begun five years earlier.
For my own part I can say this: I’ve known John Elam for seven years and either I am blind and stupid or he is a hard-working family man, unfailingly courteous, would walk a mile to do a man a good turn, would turn around rather than do him a bad one. His office is on one of the busiest corners in Leeds, he operates in a highly competitive business arena but appears to have the respect of his peers. Deals get done, and the wheels of the diggers and trucks turn. He is in the public eye insofar as he regularly takes his daughter and grandson out for meals and spends many weekends with them at their caravan at the East Coast seaside. That is not the lifestyle of a mafia gangster.
Like me, he abhorrs any form of narcotics and will not tolerate their use in his presence.
What I can’t say: That there is any evidence at all that he is the major criminal portrayed by the police. He is a one man band and has no association with any gang, apart from those carrying out groundworks on construction sites. He has the same computer in his office that he has had all the time that I’ve known him; he freely gives me access to that. He has just one ancient mobile Nokia phone that, apart from making and receiving calls, he struggles to use. There are no burner phones or SIM cards; no sophisticated means of encrypted communication used routinely by criminals, even the not-so-serious ones these days; no firearms; no weapons (and he wouldn’t even try to beat me in a fist fight). Nothing at all to support the notion of a criminal lifestyle and enforcer. His mode of transport is a 4 year old Ford Ranger open-backed pick-up truck. Not ideal if you are transporting illicit goods, cash or weapons.
What John Elam does have is a burning sense of injustice. It will never leave him. Why else, nine years after he was released from prison would he still be battling the police and the criminal justice system, spending whatever money he can raise on lawyers, trying to clear his name. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from that and look out for the follow-ups to this article which will appear in the coming weeks. This is a story that will run and run.
APPEAL: If any retired or ex-West Yorkshire Police officer wants to come forward, anonymously or otherwise, with information that may assist in answering the questions still posed by this troubling case, they are asked to contact, in complete confidence, the office of John Elam’s MP, Alex Sobel. The Member for Leeds North West has been assisting Mr Elam, particularly with disclosure issues, for the past eighteen months. He has promised efforts will be made to secure a second adjourment debate in order to fill the gaps from the first one six years ago. They are, however, difficult to come by and Alex has not been at all lucky in the ballots that take place when pursuing other issues on behalf of constituents.
Alex secured a resounding victory at the recent General Election, securing a third term in office with a substantially increased majority. Very much against the trend for the Labour Party. John Elam, as a constituent campaigned strongly amongst his family, friends and associates for an elected representative he holds in high personal and professional regard.
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