Greek trial delayed until connected proceedings in Bradford are heard

The CoVID19 crisis that has afflicted the criminal and civil justice systems in England and Wales appears to have extended to the paradise Greek island of Crete.

An appeal against a judgment that was handed down as long ago as April, 2013 was adjourned at a short hearing on 22nd September, 2020. It is now listed for 1st February, 2022, a delay of over 17 months.

Full details of the background to the claim can be found elsewhere on this website at this link.

The appellant is Ralph Christie, a Leeds-born resident on the island who turned his hand to property construction and development. From 2002 he grew from a very modest beginning to being on the cusp of having his company listed on the Stock Exchange, before a spectacular and catastrophic falling out with one of his former business partners.

The adjournment followed an application by Nikolaos Giakoumakis, the lawyer representing the respondent, Bradford businessman Stephen Thomas. He argued that this appeal should not be heard until the conclusion of another trial involving his client. This is a Family Court matter where Thomas is involved in an acrimonious dispute with his ex-wife, Jane. The genesis of that action dates back to events in 2006. Its disposal, it is said, will have a direct bearing on the Greek case.

After hearing from George Komisopolis, representing the appellant, the court upheld the defence application to adjourn.

Ralph Christie said outside the court: “The delay is, of course, very disappointing but matters that will emerge in court at Bradford about Mr Thomas, and his financial dealings here in Crete, can only be to my advantage. At this stage, it would not be sensible to go beyond that”.

Page last updated: Wednesday 22nd September, 2020 at 0700 hours

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Day of reckoning

In the summer of 2009, a dispute began between two erstwhile business partners when Bradford businessman, Stephen Thomas, walked into a police station and reported concerns over his dealings with Ralph Christie, a Leeds-born flooring retailer and contractor turned property developer, who had risen to prominence on the paradise Greek island of Crete over the course of the previous seven years.

The report led to the issue of civil proceedings by Thomas against Christie and two criminal trials in which Christie appeared as defendant. The first in Chania, the Cretan capital in 2013 and the second in the more urban surroundings of Bradford Crown Court in West Yorkshire, UK (read more here).

Judgment was given in favour of Thomas in the civil proceedings, in April 2013, whilst Christie was incarcerated in a Greek jail on Crete, ahead of the criminal trial. The claim totalled over 1.6 million euros.

At the Greek criminal trial, where Christie faced fraud and money laundering charges, he was emphatically acquitted. Thomas fled the island along with two other key prosecution witnesses, Susan Watt and Neil Waite, on the morning of the trial. In Greece, if civil proceedings are issued, the court, via judicial investigators, has the powers to advance the claim to criminal proceedings.

They claimed that they were the subject of intimidation, although the evidence behind that claim appears to be sparse and no proceedings have ever been brought against any alleged perpetrators, despite submissions to that effect by lawyers on behalf of Thomas, at the outset of the criminal trial, which caused an adjournment of almost 3 weeks.

Neither Thomas, nor Ms Watt, nor his civil lawyers turned up at the resumed hearing on 14th October, 2013.

In Bradford, fifteen months later, the jury cleared Christie of 14 of the 19 counts on the indictment. He was found guilty of the remaining 5, all for fraud by false representation, and received a sentence of 7 years imprisonment. Those guilty counts are still hotly disputed, as is the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) Order that was subsequently made in the same court in 2018 (read more here).

Two of the three witnesses who had fled Crete before the trial there did, however, give prosecution evidence in the Bradford trial. However, the jury did not believe either Watt, on seven of eight counts, or Waite on a separate single count. The guilty count, which concerned Stephen Thomas’ brother, Simon Thomas, is, according to Ralph Christie, the most controversial of the five.

A value of £55 million attached to all the offences on the indictment had been reduced to £486,000, plus interest by the time the POCA Order was made. Costing millions of pounds, and thousands of police officer, CPS lawyer and court hours, it amounts to one of the most spectacularly failed, and expensive, fraud investigations in police history. Yet, not one single West Yorkshire Police officer has faced a complaint investigation as a result of that shambles and the force remain determined to use every means possible to avoid doing so.

Ralph Christie contends strongly that his youngest brother, Cedric, a former police officer was the unseen hands behind the significant rise in the number of criminal charges that had grown from three to five to nineteen from the committal hearing at the now defunct Calderdale Magistrates Court, in April 2012 up to the final trial.

Stephen Thomas did not give evidence at Bradford, in spite of being the star witness for the police for years; nor did he feature on the indictment along with his former property development partner. Belated disclosures from West Yorkshire Police show that there were over 200 exhibits attached to his various statements made against Ralph Christie. None of which were in either the used, or unused, schedules of materials used, respectively, by the Crown Prosecution Service or disclosed to the defence team at trial. At least one of those exhibits was tainted as it comprised materials stolen from Ralph Christie’s villa in September, 2009. A fact of which WYP, and the Crown, were very well aware. But it didn’t appear an impediment to the latter when relying on that material during a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing in March, 2018.

An extraordinary situation and one that begs the question: What was Thomas saying to the police, and vice-versa, in all that time, and what were the police telling the CPS? One interesting fact that has emerged simply adds to the odour: The solicitor representing Stephen Thomas at the time, Phillip Sweeney of Opus Law, wrote to Detective Constable Charles Skidmore of West Yorkshire Police and pointed out that the witness statement presented to his client to sign was ‘neither accurate nor succinct nor representative of his [Stephen Thomas’] intructions to you’.

That inaccurate witness statement, processed by Skidmore, has never been produced to Ralph Christie, or his legal team during either criminal or civil proceedings, or via data subject access requests.

Thomas also appears to have enjoyed a charmed life, and a police and prosecutor safety net, with regard to other complaints and proceedings brought against him by his ex-wife, Jane Thomas, who alleges large scale fraud. These allegations feature in the judgment of the Greek criminal court. Matters that her former husband still denies. A final hearing is set to take place to settle these long running issues at Bradford Law Courts in November, 2020.

DC Skidmore has always been the subject of fierce criticism by Ralph Christie over his incompetence and apparent confirmation bias. Apart from the issues concerning the witness testimony of Stephen Thomas, the truthfulness, and motive, of a letter drafted by Skidmore and sent by David Levy, a very senior prosecutor, to the Greek authorities in 2011 has also been persistently and robustly challenged. To add to those, the background to how a memory stick belonging to Ralph Christie, believed to be product from the burglary at his villa in Crete in 2009, turned up at Dudley Hill Police Station in Bradford during the same month has never been properly explained by the police, or DC Skidmore, who was the officer fronting the investigation.

Yet the errant officer was allowed to retire from the force without facing any internal investigation, let alone sanction. A remark that also applies to the senior investigating officer in Operation Laggan, the codename for the ill-starred investigation set up to snare Ralph Christie. That was the hapless Detective Inspector Stephen Taylor. Formerly a close working colleague of Cedric Christie in the force’s Economic Crime Unit.

In December, 2011, a few months after he had retired, Cedric wrote to DI Taylor about the case against his elder brother and said: ‘You are really scraping the barrel now and you know what I mean. This concocted farce started just over 3 years ago and still no charges’.

The missive from his former colleague appeared to galvanise DI Taylor as the first charge was laid against Ralph Christie six weeks later. A theft charge upon which the jury returned a not guilty charge at Bradford Crown Court over three years later. The Greek authorities did not charge Christie with theft based on the same evidential materials.

On 22nd September 2020, at the picturesque Chania Court House in the administrative capital of Crete, Ralph Christie and Stephen Thomas are set to face one another in a further legal renewal. This time it is Christie who is in the driving seat in a much delayed appeal against the civil judgment, granted in favour of Thomas, as referred to earlier in this piece.

Given the findings of a three judge panel at the criminal trial, including the senior appellate judge on the island of Crete, in the same courtroom, Christie quite rightly assesses his chance of success as better than 50%. The bench found the Thomas allegations of fraud against Christie unproven and had some harsh words regarding his own conduct in concealing substantial investments abroad from his ex-wife during an acrimonious divorce settlement – and also from the UK and Greek tax authorities.

The three senior judges were also emphatic that the two men were business partners over a significant period, with ample documentation to that effect, despite a 54 page witness statement, filed and served by Thomas, going to considerable lengths to persuade the court that was not the case.

Under Greek law, that may pose a difficulty for him if he returns to the island for the hearing of civil claim appeal.

It is expected that the hearing will be relatively short, judgment will be reserved and handed down sometime during mid- to late October, 2020.

Ralph Christie, who will be represented by local lawyer George Komisopolis at the hearing says: “I am very hopeful that justice will prevail here in what is now my home country. The quashing of this judgment against me will impact markedly on other actions I am taking to clear my name, including the challenge against the Proceeds of Crime Order against me. That hearing, in my opinion, should have been delayed until after the conclusion of these proceedings in Chania”. He was previously represented by Dr Themistoklis Sofos, a leading Athens lawyer.

Stephen Thomas has been approached for comment. He is represented by Athenian lawyer Andreas Voltis and the Chania lawyer Nikolaos Giakoumakis.

UPDATE: A short report on the hearing can be read here.

Page last updated: Wednesday 23rd September, 2020 at 1000 hours

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 2015-2020. 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.

Supercops assert rights to secret hearings

On 28th February, 2020 a highly significant judgment was handed down by Mr Justice Murray at the Royal Courts of Justice. Surprisingly, there appears to have been little national media coverage, given the intervention of both Bloomberg and the Press Association in the proceedings.

It followed two ‘without notice’ applications made by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in May and July, 2019. The first sought an Unexplained Wealth Order and the second an Interim Freezing Order (IFO). They were both heard in private on 12th July, 2019, two days after the second application was made.

Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) were introduced pursuant to the Criminal Finances Act (CFA) 2017, in order to bolster the UK’s proceeds of crime regime and they have been the subject of much media attention since, mainly because of the vast sums of money and high value property involved.

The UWO, specifically, was the government’s response to the difficulty in bringing civil recovery proceedings where there was little information about an individual’s source of wealth and they were reliant upon assistance from other countries to provide evidence that the assets in question were the proceeds of crime.

The UWO, instead, places the onus on the subject of the order (the respondent) to explain the origin of assets that appear to be disproportionate to their lawful income.

Russian oligarchs allegedly laundering eye-watering sums of money in ‘Londongrad’ were seen as prime targets of the new legislation. Although recent press coverage appears to suggest that Director General, Lynne Owens, has conceded the fight against this particular group as ‘too big to handle’ (read more here).

The significance of the instant hearing was fourfold:

(i) It lifted an anonymity order granted by Ms Justice Laing on 4th July, 2019 in favour of the subject of the applications, Mansoor Mahmood Hussain. Six limited companies in which Hussain, better known locally as ‘Manny’ (or ‘Manni’), has a controlling interest were also listed on the application.

(ii) It named some of the leading players allegedly, or in most cases, proven to be involved in organised crime in the Leeds and Bradford area.

(iii) It set out the general principles for the making of a UWO and IFO and will stand as a legal authority on these matters unless, or until, challenged in a higher court.

(iv) It deals with the general principles for hearing UWO applications in private. That is to say with neither public nor press present.

The subject UWO Application was made by the NCA on the basis that they suspect that Manny Hussain is involved in serious criminality in connection with the activities of organised crime gangs (OCG’s) operating in the Bradford area; the criminality spanning a spectrum of serious crimes, including murder, drugs, firearms, fraud and money-laundering offences. The OCG’s concerned are known to be violent. The NCA’s case, in broad terms is that Hussain has been acting as an enabler, laundering the proceeds of the activities of a number of criminals, who are members of, or associated with, those OCG’s.

The main evidence supporting the UWO Application is set out in two witness statements, with supporting exhibits, made by Andrew Coles, an NCA Financial Investigator.

The evidence supporting the IFO Application is set out in a third witness statement made by Mr Coles, in which he also set out additional evidence of the NCA in support of the Agency’s application that the matters be heard in private.

According to the evidence of Mr Coles, 40 year old Hussain, born in Leeds, is self-employed as the director of a number of companies, purportedly engaged in property development and management. He has never been convicted of a criminal offence and has received only one, long spent, police caution, for assault and battery, administered in January 2009 by his local West Yorkshire force.

The other parties to the IFO are companies that are wholly owned by Mr Hussain and through which he controls various residential and commercial properties relevant to the UWO Application and, of course, the IFO Application. They are: (i) Laurel Terrace Limited (ii) Land88 Limited (iii) Jayco88 Limited (iv) Cubic Business Park Limited (v) 88M Group Limited (vi) 2 Park Square Limited.

The properties controlled by those companies are (i) Freehold property at 2 Sandmoor Drive, Alwoodley, Leeds, one of the most exclusive residential addresses in the city and its suburbs, the registered owner of which is Hussain. (ii) Freehold property at 3 Laurel Terrace, Armley Leeds, the registered owner of which is Laurel Terrace Limited. (iii) Freehold property consisting of land on the north west side of Paddock Hill, Mobberley, Knutsford, in the Cheshire stockbroker belt, the registered owner of which is Land88 Limited. (iv) Freehold property consisting of land on the south side of Doncaster Road, Wakefield, the registered owner of which is Jayco88 Limited. (v) Freehold property consisting of the Cubic Business Centre, Stanningley Road, Bramley, Leeds, and land adjoining it, the registered owner of which is Cubic Business Park Limited. (vi) leasehold property consisting of the ground floor flat at 101 Walton Street, Kensington, London, the registered owner of which is 88M Group Limited. (vii) freehold property consisting of 28 Park Square West, Leeds, including 13 The Stables, Somers Street, Leeds and 11 The Lodge, Somers Street, Leeds, the registered owner of which is 88M Group Limited; and (viii) freehold property consisting of 2 Park Square East, Leeds, the registered owner of which is 2 Park Square Limited.

Screenshot 2020-06-27 at 08.22.53
2 Park Square East (red door) with Leeds Town Hall in background

The latter four properties are in the exclusive legal quarter of the city, just a stone’s throw from the Crown Court.

The Cubic Business Centre is an impressive new ‘state-of the art’ building . It consists of 33 fully furnished offices all with air conditioning. There are conferencing facilities available, communal breakout areas, relax room, kitchen, shower room and also a gymnasium. There is ample onsite car parking and parking for staff and clients. They also have on site security surveillance which is manned at reception. CBC has its own website (see here).

The NCA’s case, put shortly, was that they had sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that Manny Hussain, a known associate of leading members of OCG’s, acts as a professional money launderer for a number of well-known criminals who operate in the Leeds and Bradford area, using specialist knowledge and expertise to find opportunities for his criminal associates to retain and to launder the proceeds of crime. One such way is to channel proceeds through corporate vehicles in order to fund the purchase of residential and commercial properties, principally held by, or through, companies that he controls. The NCA suspects that each of the properties listed above falls into that category.

The short history of the case is that the UWO Application was originally listed before Ms Justice Laing on 4th July 2019, to be heard in private. At that time, the NCA did not consider, on balance, that it was necessary, also, to apply for an IFO in connection with the UWO, in the interests of proportionality and taking the least invasive approach. It considered that the effect of service of the UWO, if granted, would carry sufficient weight to prevent Mr Hussain from taking action intended to thwart the UWO or any future civil recovery proceedings against him or his companies.

Following informal applications by Bloomberg and the Press Association challenging the decision to hear the UWO Application in private, the judge adjourned the hearing to 12th July 2019 in order to permit the two media organisations to make written submissions in support of the the press applications in accordance with CPR 39.2 (5).

On 8th July 2019 Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP (“RPC”), solicitors for Bloomberg and the PA wrote to the court indicating that their clients no longer wished to challenge the decision to hear the UWO Application in private and, therefore, wished to withdraw both press applications.

In its skeleton argument for the hearing on 12th July 2019, in relation to those press applications, the NCA indicated that it had spent considerable time preparing to address the issues of law and practice raised by those applications, including gathering evidence set out in the third witness statement of Mr Coles. Following the adjournment on 4th July 2019, the NCA also received information that, it considered, altered the risk profile so that an application for an IFO would now also be necessary.

Although the press applications were withdrawn, the NCA considered that they had raised fundamental issues of broad principle as to the nature and operation of the UWO jurisdiction and, in general, the need for privacy in relation to applications for a UWO to protect the integrity of the NCA’s investigation to which the UWO relates, as well as to protect the rights of the respondent to the UWO. Therefore, the NCA urged Mr Justice Russell to rule on the issue of principle raised by the now-withdrawn press applications. Firstly, addressing the general UWO jurisdiction and the need for privacy in a public judgment and then, secondly, dealing with the particular circumstances of this case in a confidential judgment to be handed down at a hearing in private.

Since the UWO and IFO were made, the existence of the UWO and the IFO have ceased to be confidential and have, in fact, been superceded by an acccount freezing order (AFO) made on 12 February 2020, following a hearing in public, by Mr Justice Supperstone. For that reason, there was no longer a need for a separate confidential judgment.

The legal framework is set out in highly forensic detail at paras 19 to 76 of the judgment, read in full here.

The privacy issues raised by the Press Applications

As made clear by Civil Procedure Rule (CPR) 39.2, the general position is that a hearing is to be open and held in public. Open justice is a fundamental constitutional principle. A hearing will be held in private only where strictly necessary to secure the proper administration of justice, after the court has satisfied itself that relevant considerations render it strictly necessary and after the court has considered any duty to protect or have regard to a right to freedom of expression which may be affected.

CPR, at section 39.2(3), sets out various relevant considerations and, for completeness, they are repeated here:
“(3) A hearing, or any part of it, must be held in private if, and only to the extent that, the court is satisfied of one or more of the matters set out in sub-paragraphs (a) to (g) and that it is necessary to sit in private to secure the proper administration of justice –
(a) publicity would defeat the object of the hearing;
(b) it involves matters relating to national security;
(c) it involves confidential information (including information relating to personal financial matters) and publicity would damage that confidentiality;
(d) a private hearing is necessary to protect the interests of any child or protected party;
(e) it is a hearing of an application made without notice and it would be unjust to any respondent for there to be a public hearing;
(f) it involves uncontentious matters arising in the administration of trusts or in the administration of a deceased person’s estate; or
(g) the court for any other reason considers this to be necessary to secure the proper administration of justice.”
Open justice is, therefore, the starting point and the default position. To the extent that there are restrictions on reporting, it is also necessary to consider Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) as incorporated into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

The rule of open justice is, of course, not absolute. CPR 39.2(3) stipulates that a hearing must be held in private if the court is satisfied as to one or more of the matters set out in that rule. Mr Andrew Sutcliffe QC, leading counsel for the NCA, submitted, in relation to the issues raised by the press applications, that subparagraphs (a), (c), (e) and (g) of CPR 39.2(3) each apply in this case in relation to both the UWO Application and the IFO Application.

Mr Sutcliffe also noted that the open justice principle is, occasionally, expressly derogated from by statute and submitted that the statutory material and guidance underpinning UWOs fall into this category, anticipating that UWO applications will, generally, be made without notice and determined in private.

Section 362 I(1) of POCA expressly provides that an application for a UWO may be made without notice. Again, for completeness, the revised Practice Direction provides at paragraph 11.1 as follows:
“11.1 The application [for a UWO and a related IFO] will be heard and determined in private, unless the judge hearing it directs otherwise.”
The presumption, therefore, is that the hearing will be private. In relation to court documents, the revised Practice Direction provides at paragraphs 9.1-9.3 as follows:
“9.1 CPR rules 5.4, 5.4B and 5.4C do not apply to an application under Part 8 of [POCA] (including an application for an unexplained wealth order or an interim freezing order) …, and paragraphs 9.2 and 9.3 below have effect in its place.
9.2 When an application is issued, the court file will be marked ‘Not for disclosure’ and, unless a High Court judge grants permission, the court records relating to the application (including the application notice, documents filed in support, and any order or warrant that is made) will not be made available by the court for any person to inspect or copy, either before or after the hearing of the application.
9.3 An application for permission under paragraph 9.2 must be made on notice to the appropriate officer, or (in the case of an application for an unexplained wealth order or an interim freezing order) the enforcement authority, in accordance with CPR Part 23.”

Mr Sutcliffe submitted that three important points can be drawn from the above provisions:

First, he says, it is clear that there is a strong presumption of privacy built into the UWO regime. It is not a matter of the NCA having to make an application to depart from a starting point of a public hearing. It is for those seeking to challenge the privacy and/or to obtain copies of court documents to make an application to do so.

Secondly, Mr Sutcliffe submitted, these measures are not simply about preventing the removal of property by the respondent before the order can be granted. The status of a UWO application is not tied to the existence or status of an IFO application, the latter being concerned with the risk of dissipation of property. To the contrary, section 362J(5) of POCA provides that an application for an IFO must be made without notice if the UWO application to which it relates was made without notice, rather than the other way around. This demonstrates that a UWO application is not made without notice for property preservation purposes.

Cousel noted that further support for this point is to be found in the Revised Code of Practice at paragraph 38, which states in relevant part: “… In deciding whether an application should be made without notice, the appropriate officer should consider the benefit of not holding the proceedings after giving notice to all parties. An obvious and common reason would be so as not to alert the person(s) connected to an investigation that it is ongoing. On notice proceedings might enable the person to move material or information and thereby frustrate the investigation. … .”

Mr Sutcliffe submitted, further, that a UWO is, of course, fundamentally about obtaining information and documentation and not the risk of dissipation of property. This is consistent with the policy underlying CPR r 39.2(3)(a).

Thirdly, Mr Sutcliffe submitted that, as paragraphs 9.2, 9.3 and 11.1 of the revised Practice Direction make clear, the presumptive position is that the hearing of an application for a UWO will be in private and the relevant court documents will not be made available. That position is not dependent upon whether the relevant UWO application has been made on notice or not. It specifically concerns, he submitted, the need for privacy of the hearing and related court documents. The presumption of privacy thus applies equally to applications made on notice, making clear that the need for privacy is not only about the potential impact of the respondent being on notice to the NCA’s investigation, but it is also concerned with the rights of the respondent. This is consistent with the policies underlying subparagraphs (c), (e) and (g) of CPR r 39.2(3).
He acknowledged that it would not invariably be the case that a UWO application would have to be without notice and heard in private. The specific facts of each case need to be considered carefully by the enforcing authority before making its application and by the court. He submitted, however, that the starting point of an application without notice and a hearing in private, as set out in the statutory provisions and supporting material for UWOs, was driven by a clear logic and set of policies, which he summarised as follows:
i) First, where the application is made without notice (as permitted by section 362 I(1) of POCA), the jurisdiction recognises that in all likelihood, publicity would defeat the object of the hearing (subparagraph (a) of CPR 39.2(3)).

ii) Secondly, the application necessarily contains significant amounts of sensitive information, both confidential and personal, about the respondent. Subparagraph (c) of CPR 39.2(3) is also plainly engaged; but equally (if not more importantly) where the application is without notice and the respondent unaware of it, subparagraph (e) of CPR 39.2(3) is also engaged.

In relation to the second of these points, Mr Sutcliffe amplified as follows:

(i) The considerable media interest in UWOs is undeserved. A UWO is merely a tool designed to assist with information-gathering during the early, preliminary stages of an investigation, where there is a dearth of information available to the NCA. Consequently, the threshold tests for the application are relatively low. The Holding Requirement and the Value Requirement, as set out in the statutory framework, are not difficult to satisfy. As to the Income Requirement and the Serious Crime Requirement, each depends on there being reasonable grounds for suspicion and no more. The test for “suspicion” is fairly low, and may be established by reference to evidence that would fall short of that necessary to establish actual involvement in crime, as noted by the Privy Council in Hussein v Chong Fook Kam.

(ii) Consequently, a UWO application is designed (a) to assist the NCA at the very early stages of its investigation, at a time when it has relatively little information and (b) to be an information-gathering tool. The obtaining of a UWO does not mean that the NCA will necessarily proceed with a civil recovery investigation or proceed to take advantage of any further or more intrusive investigative measures available to it.

(iii) The result is that a UWO application necessarily sets out in detail the fact that the NCA suspects that: (a) if the PEP Requirement applies, the respondent is a politically exposed person who has been involved in (most likely) embezzlement and corruption; or
(b) if the Serious Crime Requirement applies, as in this case, the respondent is a person who has been involved in very serious criminality, such as, among other things, human trafficking, arms offences, drugs offences, fraud offences and money laundering offences.

(iv) The UWO application sets out the foregoing detail, together with detailed information about the respondent’s income and finances, yet this is done at a stage where the investigation, and underlying evidence, is embryonic. Some of the information will be from public sources, but much of it will be likely to have come confidentially from other authorities and agencies, as required by paragraph 178 of the Revised Code of Practice (see [40] above) and other third parties.

(v) Plainly the content of that confidential information, if made public, is likely to have a personal and reputational impact on the respondent. The notion that the press, or any other member of the public, should be able to hear of the NCA’s suspicions as to the respondent’s character and criminal involvement, and details of the amount and suspected source of the respondent’s wealth, in circumstances where the respondent is not even aware of the fact that the hearing is happening, let alone has the opportunity to seek to protect his confidentiality and reputation, is obviously unfair to the respondent; not to mention contrary to the interests of justice. Plainly, therefore, sub-paragraph (e), as well as sub-paragraph (c), of CPR 39.2(3) is engaged.

(vi) Indeed, even if the application is on notice, for similar reasons subparagraph (g) of CPR 39.2(3) would also almost certainly be engaged. There is no justification for a respondent’s character being put forward for the type of public trial by media that often follows any media interest, at such an early stage of the investigation. Indeed, were that invariably a risk, then proportionality might require in practice that the NCA would have to apply a far higher threshold test as to the evidence and certainty of guilt than the statute requires before proceeding to make an application. That outcome would undermine the intended function of the UWO jurisdiction.

For those reasons, Mr Sutcliffe submitted, it is wholly unsurprising that the architects of the UWO jurisdiction envisaged the need for, and put in place safeguards to protect, the privacy of the hearing and outcome of the application for a UWO. To the extent that it is considered necessary to go behind the reasoning of the statutory and supporting regime, he submitted, it is plainly the case that numerous triggers in CPR 39.2(3) independently apply; namely, sub-paragraphs (a), (c), (e) and (g), which cumulatively establish an overwhelming case for having the hearing of an application for a UWO in private, in the vast majority of cases.

In his submissions, Mr Sutcliffe also dealt with the question of whether the court needed to undertake a balancing exercise, considering the respondent’s rights under Article 8 of ECHR and weighing them in the balance against the rights of Bloomberg and the PA (or any other relevant news organisation) under Article 10 of ECHR. He submitted, however, that such an exercise was unnecessary in this case, given the clear application of CPR 39.2(3), which required the court to hold the hearing in private. There are other potential rights of the respondent, for example, under Articles 2 and 6 of the Convention, which would also need to be taken into account which would make the exercise not at all straightforward.

Finally, Mr Sutcliffe submitted that the NCA had given serious consideration to the question of whether a hearing in public, but with reporting restrictions in place, would be sufficient, but had concluded that that approach would be insufficient. It being the case that a number of sub-paragraphs of CPR 39.2(3) independently apply, the hearing must be in private. Reporting restrictions alone, for example, would leave the risk of “jigsaw identification”. This is not a case, he says, where the sole concern is that Manny Hussain will thwart the UWO before it is served on him. Other issues and concerns are engaged, including the potential impact on Hussain of any publicity relating to the making of the UWO.

The judge accepted and substantially agreed with these submissions. For the reasons he gives, in light of the nature and purpose of the UWO application, CPR 39.2(3) is highly likely to be engaged, requiring the court to hold the hearing in private to secure the proper administration of justice. Given, in particular, (i) the very early stage of an investigation at which a UWO application will be sought by an enforcement authority, (ii) the relatively low threshold for obtaining a UWO under section 362B of POCA and (iii) the potentially disproportionate personal and reputational impact on a respondent of the fact that a UWO has been obtained if that fact is publicised, several sub-paragraphs of CPR 39.2(3) are likely to be engaged, most notably, sub-paragraphs (a), (c), (e) and (g), particularly in a case such as this where the UWO application involves consideration of the Serious Crime Requirement. This was anticipated by the statutory framework and guidance applicable to UWOs, which makes it clear that, while close and careful regard must be had to the specific circumstances of each case, the presumptive starting point is that a UWO application will be made without notice and that the hearing of the UWO application and any related IFO application will be in private.

In this case, it was clear, for reasons given below, that the presumptive starting point applied in this case and that it was necessary for the proper administration of justice that the hearing be conducted in private. In particular, the judge was satisfied of the matters set out in subparagraphs (a), (c), (e) and (g) of CPR r 39.2(3).

The judge also agreed with Mr Sutcliffe’s submission that it is not necessary in this case to go further and undertake a balancing exercise of the type carried out by Sharp J (as she then was) in DFT v TFD [2010] EWHC 2335 (QB) at [15]-[19], weighing the Article 8 ECHR rights of the respondent against the Article 10 ECHR rights of Bloomberg and the PA, particularly bearing in mind that other ECHR rights of the respondent are also potentially engaged and would need to be considered, most notably, his rights under Articles 2 and 6 of the ECHR. The judge in this case also agreed that reporting restrictions would be insufficient. Given the conclusion on the application of CPR 39.2(3), the hearing was required to be held in private, as ruled at the time.

Supplemental reasons for ordering that the hearing be conducted in private

Mr Sutcliffe for the NCA made the following additional submissions in support of the the application that, in this case, both the UWO Application and the IFO Application should be made without notice and the hearing conducted in private:

(i) Publicity would defeat the object of the hearing, engaging sub-paragraph (a) of CPR 39.2(3), for the following reasons: (a) The NCA considered that there was a material risk that Manny Hussain might move, or arrange to be moved, information and documentation potentially relevant to a possible civil recovery investigation in advance of a UWO being made. (b) Whilst the NCA had originally considered that an IFO was not required, it reached that view on the basis that the UWO Application would be made without notice. Putting Hussain on notice of the application would likely have triggered the risk that ultimately necessitated the IFO application. Given the NCA’s obligation to consider proportionality, the NCA had considered that, if the hearing was not on notice, the judicial weight that comes with a court order would have been sufficient to dissuade Hussain from transferring any of the subject Properties once he was served with the UWO. The NCA, having considered that point following the adjournment of the hearing on 4th July 2019, assessed that the risk profile changed. Evidence in support of that view was given in Mr Coles’ third witness statement. In particular, it came to the attention of the NCA that 3 Laurel Terrace was to be transferred to a new owner, although the NCA was not able to identify the intended transferee. Accordingly, the NCA determined that there was a need for an IFO and made the IFO Application. Had the UWO Application and the IFO Application been made on notice, there is a material risk that the purpose of obtaining a UWO would have been defeated.

(ii) It would be unjust to Manny Hussain, engaging subparagraphs (e) and (g) of CPR 39.2(3), for the hearing not to be conducted in private. For reasons articulated in Mr Coles witness evidence, the NCA considered that there was a significant concern over Hussain’s rights under Article 2 of the ECHR. The organised crime gangs involved in this case are known for violence. There was a genuine and well-founded concern that publicity over the subject and nature of the UWO might give rise to a threat to Hussain’s person. So long as the UWO was not publicised (and Hussain did not personally publicise it, which he was highly unlikely to do in the circumstances), the level of threat-to-life (“TTL”) in relation to Hussain would be considered low. However, as at the point of service of the UWO, the NCA would be alert to the possible need to trigger its TTL procedures. Should the existence and nature of the UWO become widely known (and particularly, in a manner that the NCA was unable to manage or control), the TTL risk to Hussain would be likely to escalate.

(iii) The UWO Application and the IFO Application involved consideration of detailed personal and confidential information about Manny Hussain, his finances, and his wealth, engaging subparagraph (c) of CPR 39.2(3).

(iv) As detailed in the NCA’s submission regarding satisfaction of the Serious Crime Requirement, he is suspected of involvement in serious crime. It would plainly be an intrusion into his privacy for those suspicions to be aired in public, at a stage where they are no more than suspicions. A UWO offered Hussain the chance to satisfactorily explain his wealth and to maintain his good character. Publicity of the NCA’s interest would severely undermine that. For these reasons, sub-paragraphs (c), (e) and (g) of CPR 39.2(3) were engaged.

(v) The UWO Application concerned the operation of organised crime gangs in the UK. Publication of the NCA’s suspicions, and publicising the UWO Application, carried the risk of prejudicing the NCA’s wider investigation. Given that it is highly unlikely that Mr Hussain would choose to publicise the existence of a UWO, media reporting of the UWO, in any way likely to identify the subject or content of the wider investigation, could well prejudice the nature of that ongoing investigation. On that basis, subparagraph (g) of CPR 39.2(3) was engaged.

These submissions of Mr Sutcliffe, which are amply supported by the evidence set out in the witness statements of Mr Coles and the supporting documentation exhibited with them were, unsurprisingly, adopted by the court.

The tests to be met for UWO application to succeed

In relation to the Serious Crime Requirement, the NCA suspects Hussain of acting as a professional enabler and serial money launderer for a number of individuals involved in organised crime gangs, specifically an organised crime gang operating in the Bradford area operated by the Khan family, headed by Mohammed Nisar Khan, known locally as “King Meggy“, and his brother, Mr Shamsher Khan, and an organised crime gang operating across the north of England run by Dennis Slade, there being a degree of connection between the individuals involved in the two organised crime gangs.
In his evidence, Mr Coles sets out in detail the alleged and known criminal activities of a number of individuals suspected or known to be involved in serious criminality, particularly in relation to drug disputes, gang violence, armed robbery and serious fraud. These individuals include:

(i) Mohammed Nisar Khan, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Amriz Iqbal and believed to be responsible for numerous serious assaults, including attempted murder, as well as involvement in the illicit trafficking of drugs and firearms on his own behalf and that of other organised crime gangs, with a significant record of previous convictions, largely for violence and drug-related crimes;

(ii) Shamsher Khan, who is known to the police for violence and drug-related offences, as well as obtaining mortgages by fraud and money laundering offences;

(iii) Dennis Slade, who was the head of an organised crime gang involved in cash-in-transit robberies involving firearms, which operated across the north of England, and who has various convictions for, among other things, burglary, theft, handling stolen goods and crimes of violence including assaults occasioning grievous bodily harm (GBH) and actual bodily harm (ABH) as well as suspected connection to two murders for which he was arrested but not charged;

(iv) Ms Maxine Valentine, Mr Slade’s estranged wife, who is said to have enjoyed a lavish lifestyle on her husband’s criminal earnings and who was convicted at Teesside Crown Court on 28 January 2011 on two counts of money laundering, for which she received a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment;

(v) Simon Morris, who has previous convictions for dishonesty offences, has also been implicated in Mr Slade’s fraud offending and was arrested by West Yorkshire Police in connection with a multi-million pound property fraud along with Irfan Ali, who is a close associate of Mr Mohammed Khan; and

(vi) Brian Morris, father of Simon, who also has previous convictions for dishonesty offences and was arrested alongside his son and Ali in connection with the multi-million pound property fraud referred to at (v) above.

In his evidence, Mr Coles sets out the details of Hussain’s involvement with these individuals. Some of the highlights are:
(i) Manny Hussain has, since 2005, frequently been stopped by the police while in Mohammed Khan’s company and has been observed spending time in his company on other occasions;

(ii) Hussain frequently drove King Meggy to and from Leeds Crown Court and attended with him during the trial of Dennis Slade;

(iii) Meggy is connected to a company, Twenty Four Seven Security Services (UK) Limited, which uses one of the subject properties, the Cubic Business Centre, as its business address and displays its signage at another of the properties, 3 Laurel Terrace;

iv) Hussain travelled to Malaga with Meggy for a trip lasting less than 24 hours, purportedly to attend the opening of a nightclub there;

v) Hussain paid private school fees for Meggy’s son for a period of just over two years in the sum of just under £10,000;

vi) Hussain funded Shamsher Khan’s confiscation order in the amount of £134,000 following his conviction for mortgage fraud offences, the source of those funds suspected by the NCA to be funds held, directly or indirectly, by Hussain for or on behalf of Mohammed Khan;

vii) Slade gave the address of one of the subject properties, 2 Sandmoor Drive, the property held in Hussain’s own name, as his home address during his trial, without, it appears to the NCA, Slade having paid any rent in relation to that property;

viii) Ms Valentine has stated to the authorities that 2 Sandmoor Drive is “part-owned” with a friend, and she was regularly driven to and from Leeds Crown Court by Hussain during Slade’s trial there;

ix) Hussain provided Slade with a luxury residence, The Lodge, owned by another company, owned or controlled by Hussain, following Slade’s release from prison;

x) Hussain visited Slade regularly in prison, sending money to the prison for Slade and advancing funds to Slade’s daughter;

xi) Hussain has been a business partner of Brian Morris, the two having been co-directors of a company called BM Car Parks Limited and, potentially, in relation to another company called Ideal Properties, which makes Brian Morris a “connected person” in respect of Hussain under both Corporation Tax and POCA regimes;

and,

xii) West Yorkshire Police has shown evidence to the NCA indicating that Hussain has been involved in property business dealings with Simon Morris.

A point not heard in court was the suspicion amongst the local property developing fraternity that Slade, for a period, acted as bodyguard for Simon Morris after an incident where a shot was said to be fired through the windscreen of the latter’s car.

As a result of its investigation, the NCA have concluded that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Hussain and his corporate vehicles, including the other IFO Respondents, which are “connected” with him, have conducted themselves in a way that was likely to facilitate the commission of:

(i) serious criminal offences within England and Wales, namely money laundering offences, by way of concealing, disguising, converting, transferring, and/or being involved in arrangements concerning, and/or acquiring, using and/or having possession of the proceeds of the above identified criminality; and

(ii) of serious offences by the persons identified above, of the underlying serious crimes respectively identified, by way of providing a money-laundering service and thereby enabling those criminals to retain the benefit of their criminality over the years, and, as a result, facilitating their continued offending.

Moreover, the NCA suspects that Manny Hussain has not merely been involved in at least one serious offence, thereby satisfying the Serious Crime Requirement, but rather plays a wider role in relation to organised crime in the Bradford area, standing at the centre of a network of organised crime as a designated “clean skin”; namely, a person with no serious criminal convictions to this name, who enables those operating the criminal activities of the organised crime gangs with which he is connected, by providing a money-laundering service. So, the NCA submits that Hussain’s activities not only facilitate the commission of individual serious crimes, but they also facilitate organised crime on a large scale, which is a further factor exacerbating the seriousness of the criminality in which it is suspected that Hussain is involved.

Having reviewed the evidence provided by Mr Coles in his first witness statement and considered the submissions made on behalf of the NCA, the judge concluded that the Holding Requirement, the Value Requirement, the Income Requirement and the Serious Crime Requirement were all amply satisfied. The remaining question, therefore, was simply whether it was appropriate in all those circumstances for him to exercise his discretion to make the UWO. He concluded that it was, for the following reasons:
(i) The statutory requirements were met;

ii) the aim of the measure was to improve the ability of the authorities to investigate and, where appropriate, recover the proceeds of crime, which is a legitimate aim;

(iii) having reviewed the terms of the UWO with counsel, the judge was satisfied that it was no wider than appropriate and that it was proportionate, with a view to enabling the NCA to determine whether to commence civil recovery or other proceedings (which in fact they did, obtaining a £1.13 million Account Freezing Order in January, 2020);

(iv) there are relevant safeguards in the legislation, for example: (a) A UWO does not confer the right to require a person to answer any privileged question nor to produce privileged or excluded material; (b) a statement made in response to a UWO may not generally be used in evidence against the respondent in criminal proceedings; (c) the statutory presumption that relevant property is recoverable property where the respondent fails to comply or purport to comply with the UWO may be avoided if there is a “reasonable excuse” for non-compliance and may subsequently be resisted if “the contrary is shown”.

In terms of proportionality, the NCA considered that it could not achieve the necessary objectives by less intrusive means. The primary alternative would have been to seek a Disclosure Order (“DO”), with Disclosure Notices (“DNs”) being issued to various third parties from whom information would be sought. The NCA had several reasons for discounting this approach:
(i) It would require identifying relevant third parties upon whom to serve DNs, whilst in this case many of the sources of funding are completely unknown (or even which solicitors acted on the various transactions);

(ii) the transactions go back further than six years, which is the usual document retention period for many financial institutions;

(iii) the use of DNs would alert third parties to the fact that the NCA is interested in the source of Manny Hussain’s wealth, which would arguably be more intrusive than a UWO;

(iv) the use of a DO and DNs would be less practical and cost-effective than a UWO in a case such as the present one where the nature of Hussain’s suspected role as an enabler and money-launderer necessarily makes the sources of funds likely to be disparate and complex.

Ultimately, a UWO would be less intrusive in its impact, the NCA said, given that failure to comply with a UWO is not a criminal offence, unlike failure to comply with a DO, unless the respondent knowingly, or recklessly, makes a false or misleading statement in their response.
As far as Hussain’s human rights are concerned, the NCA submitted that the proposed UWO pursued a legitimate aim, would be in accordance with the law and would be justified and proportionate in all the circumstances.
As far as proportionality and having regard to Hussain’s human rights are concerned, the judge accepted and agreed with the submissions made on behalf of the NCA.

In compliance with its duty of full and frank disclosure of all material facts, and to pursue reasonable lines of enquiry before making the UWO Application, the NCA noted various points “putting on its defence hat”, which were set out in Mr Coles’ first witness statement. These involved various arguments that Hussain might possibly seek to run when put on notice of the UWO, rebutting the submission that one or more relevant elements of each of the key requirements for obtaining a UWO were satisfied (Holding, Value, Income and Serious Crime). None of the points raised, in the judge’s view, had any real force. It is important to bear in mind, he said, the relatively low threshold for obtaining a UWO, but also the limited effect of a UWO and the various statutory safeguards to which he had already referred.

After the judge reviewed with counsel the form of UWO sought by the NCA, the conclusion was that the terms of the UWO were appropriate and proportionate in light of the evidence, and therefore made the UWO on the terms sought by the Agency.

Reasons for making the IFO against Mr Hussain and the Other IFO Respondents

Mr Sutcliffe made the following submissions in support of the IFO Application against Mr Hussain and the other IFO Respondents:
i) The requirements of POCA are satisfied in that the application is made by the NCA, which is the same authority that applied for the UWO, and it is sought in “the same proceedings” as those in which the UWO was made; and

ii) the NCA considers that it is “necessary” to make an IFO for the purposes of avoiding the risk of any recovery order (that might subsequently be obtained) being frustrated, for the reasons explained in Mr Coles’ third witness statement, namely: (a) The NCA had received specific information from the Money Laundering Reporting Officer of the relevant firm, that Hussain intended to transfer 3 Laurel Terrace; (b) Mr Coles was further notified by the Land Registry that an application had been lodged by the firm of solicitors in question; (c) no information concerning the application was available to the NCA, and despite a request by Mr Coles, pursuant to section 7 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the Money Laundering Reporting Officer of the relevant firm responded refusing to provide any information about the transfer, including as to the intended transferee; and (d) a search of the Land Registry on 9th July 2019 indicated that no transfer had yet taken place.

Mr Sutcliffe submitted that this evidence demonstrated that there was a clear risk of imminent dissipation of 3 Laurel Terrace, justifying the IFO Application. Furthermore, he said, given the NCA’s suspicion that all of the subject Properties are held or controlled by Mr Hussain as forms of investment of the proceeds of crime, on behalf of third parties, then if the intent to transfer 3 Laurel Terrace was pursuant to a request from a relevant third party in order to realise funds, then if only 3 Laurel Terrace were frozen, it is likely that Mr Hussain would transfer another of the Properties in order to realise funds. Accordingly, he submitted, the NCA considered there to be a risk of dissipation in relation to all of the Properties and therefore it sought an IFO in respect of all of them.
The cumulative value of the Properties was believed to be just under £10,000,000. All of the subject Properties were then currently unrestrained. Some of them were also unencumbered, meaning that it would be easy for Mr Hussain to release equity from them, which could be dissipated quickly and with ease. All except one of the Properties was held by one of the other IFO Respondents. Accordingly, it was necessary to make the IFO (but not the UWO) against each of the other IFO Respondents as well as Mr Hussain.
Having considered that nothing significant arose by way of the NCA’s compliance with its duty of full and frank disclosure, and having reviewed with counsel the form of IFO sought, the judge was satisfied that the relevant statutory requirements for the IFO were met and that the terms of the IFO were appropriate and proportionate.

Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, at the conclusion of the hearing the court was satisfied that:
(i) it was strictly necessary to conduct the hearing of the NCA’s applications for a UWO against Mr Hussain and an IFO against Mr Hussain and the other IFO Respondents in private. That is to say, without both public and press present; and (ii) in all the circumstances, it was just, appropriate and proportionate to make: (a) the UWO sought by the NCA against Mr Hussain; and (b) the IFO sought by the NCA against Mr Hussain and each of the other corporate IFO Respondents.

Connections to other cases on this website

One of the drivers for West Yorkshire Police to continue to harass John Elam, whose miscarriage of justice case was raised in Parliament in 2014 (read more here) is their obsession with social, or other connections, to Dennis Slade. There is no such association. Seven years of the most intensive, intrusive covert and overt police surveillance should have convinced them of that. A recent success in a civil claim against the force by Elam  (full story to follow) has needled WYP further.

Former Head of the Economic Crime Unit of West Yorkshire Police, Cedric Christie, was involved in investigations into Simon Morris, a former Director of Leeds United football club, both pre- and post-retirement from the force. Cedric is believed to be at the very centre of the controversy over the conviction of his elder brother, Ralph Christie at Bradford Crown Court in 2015. From being a powerful miscarriage of justice advocate, the younger brother turned turtle and appears to have provided the impetus for his former force to convict on 3 of the 5 counts upon which he was found guilty. The jury acquitted Ralph on 14 other counts, in a number of which Cedric is believed to have also taken a hand (read more here). He is presently refusing to answer any questions on these matters.

As referred to above, Shamser Khan was involved in large-scale mortgage fraud. His conviction, and subsequent POCA recoveries involving other mortgage frauds, led indirectly to Operation Thatcham, a large scale crash for cash investigation (in which Khan has no known involvement at all). During Thatcham, a well known Bradford doctor was arrested by police as part of an alleged conspiracy to defraud. However, no allegations were ever put to him in interview and he was never charged with any offence. That arrest of Dr Abdul Rashid is now the subject of a hotly disputed, long running civil claim which could cost the police up to £5 million in costs and damages (read more here and here).

Page last updated at 1115hrs on Monday 3rd August, 2020.

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Licence to kill?

On 5th March, 2015 at Bradford Crown Court, Ralph Christie was sentenced to 7 years in prison at the end of a trial lasting almost 8 weeks. He had been found guilty on 5 counts of fraud by false representation relating to property business dealing on the Greek island of Crete (read more here). He was found not guilty on a further 14 counts.

The not guilty counts included those alleging money laundering and theft. The total of the sums listed on the indictment, in connection with fraud, theft and money laundering, amounted to a staggering sum approaching £50,000,000.

Born in Leeds in 1961, but domiciled on Crete since 2005, Christie has maintained his protests of innocence since the day he was convicted. He was released from prison on licence on 4th January, 2018 and, ever since, has campaigned vigorously to clear his name.

One significant success, along the way, is reducing his liability under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) from £1.4 million plus interest to £482,666 plus interest. The count on the indictment concerning an investment made by Howard Tenens plc in Christie’s land and properties has been called in to question. It now appears arguable that it should not have been put before the jury, as there was already a prior High Court court finding concerning the dealings between Tenens and Christie.

This part of the police’s Section 16 POCA application, to recover £987,000 connected to the Tenens charge, which led to him being jailed, rather than a suspended sentence, was deducted from the POCA liability by the judge, HHJ Durham Hall QC on April 26th, 2018, again at Bradford Crown Court.

In the event, Christie was ordered to pay back a total of £569,990.64, inclusive of interest, to the complainants in respect of the remaining four frauds for which he was convicted.

At the time of the original court case he was bailed to a Ripon address, although police referred to him at the POCA hearing as being ‘a Bradford man who had moved to Crete’. A point confirmed by the fact that he holds a class of Greek residency permit that can only be granted after living there for 10 years. The relevance of those matters unfolds later in this piece.

Ramona Senior, Head of the Economic Crime Unit (ECU) at West Yorkshire Police, said: “This was a complex confiscation hearing, but the Financial Investigator worked tirelessly to recover money from Christie”.

“At the centre, were the victims who lost a lot of money because of the fraud. Christie now has 3 months to pay the money back or face an additional 4 years imprisonment in default.

Ms Senior added: “The POCA Order will be robustly enforced and, if Christie fails to pay, not only will he will face a further 4 years in jail, the debt he owes to society will remain with him for life, until paid in full.”

She was silent on the reduction in the alleged value of the crimes from nearly £50 million on the indictment, to £1.4 million upon conviction, and then to £482,000 via POCA, and no questions were asked by the tame local press, who reported on the hearing, as to how this reconciled with a ‘complex hearing’ and such glowing praise for the ‘tireless’ financial investigator, Nigel Crowther. Or, how it impacted on the sentencing of Ralph Christie, receiving a 7 year prison sentence instead of a considerably lesser sentence, that may well have been suspended.

There was no mention, either, of the lengths that WYP would go to in order to frustrate Christie in his attempt to raise money in order to discharge the POCA obligation. Or, explain the final destination of funds that were in accounts frozen, or sequestered, in 2011, following their actions taken in conjuction with the Crown Prosecution Service’s David Levy and the Greek authorities. Other financial restrictions had been in force since 2009.

Christie had represented himself at the final POCA hearing, after his legal representatives withdrew at a late stage in proceedings, whereas the police had instructed a QC, Paul Reid, also involved in the diminishing claims debacle from the outset, whilst, it is right to observe, making a small fortune for himself along the way.

Operation Laggan, the bungled, meandering, six-year police investigation into Ralph Christie and his Greek property dealing, has cost the taxpayer well over £1 million; far more than will ever be recovered via POCA. If Christie is able to clear his name over the five counts upon which he was convicted, and there seems a reasonable chance he may do so, then WYP face a multi-million pound (or euros) payout in compensation to him and his investors. Probably, the largest in their history.

Cedric Christie, Ralph’s younger brother was a predecessor of Ramona Senior, as WYP’s Head of ECU, during his 30 years service with the force he had joined as a cadet. One of a number of remarkable coincidences and connections that form a labyrinthine thread through this article.

He retired in 2011 and became a vigorous, high-profile campaigner for justice for his brother, both in the press and on television; founding a campaign for election as West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner in 2012 on that very case, as part of a wider, and well justified, attack on police corruption in his home county. Arguably, the most peristently dishonest police force in the country.

On that solus anti-corruption platform, he was very nearly elected. Taking the hot favourite, the Labour Party-backed Mark Burns-Williamson, to a re-count. The author of this piece, Neil Wilby, was Cedric’s campaign manager. Burns-Williamson was, previously, the Chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority for 9 years and through a period of some of the most grotesque failings of the police force in its history. The perennially failed PCC, a former gritter lorry driver, has provided no assistance, whatsoever, in holding the chief constable to account over the force’s failings, both in the Operation Laggan investigation and matters closely connected to it.

Just over a year later, Cedric had turned turtle and was, it appears, plotting with his former colleagues to convict his own brother, who had been on bail since 2009, with the police case against him, originally comprising of only 3 charges, now seemingly floundering. It is his elder brother’s strong contention that Cedric’s own private investigation work led to the additional counts upon which he was tried in Bradford during early 2015.

It has transpired very recently that, according to Cedric, West Yorkshire Police detectives have never been to Crete to pursue the investigation against Ralph. That appears to be borne out by conversations with property and land owners who were party to some of the transactions that led to the Bradford trial.

One plausible conclusion is that Cedric was visiting the island at the behest of WYP. A proposition he denies. It is clear, and well evidenced, however, that Cedric made visits to Crete in September/October, 2013; then in January, and April, 2014. On the latter visit, he was accompanied by Declan Christie, Ralph’s eldest son, who was acting as interpreter and local guide, being fluent in the Greek language.

The following month Cedric texted his brother to say that he was ‘going to go to the police and the courts’. At about the same time, he also issued civil proceedings against Ralph, knowing that, as he had been by this time arrested whilst on a visit to the UK, he would not be in a position to defend that claim.

The additional charges were made against Ralph in September, 2014.

During this same time period, Cedric was also meeting with another high profile miscarriage of justice proponent, Leeds property developer, John Elam. His case had been raised in an adjournment debate in Parliament at the end of January, 2014 by Gerry Sutcliffe, MP (read more here). Cedric met with Elam and Sutcliffe shortly afterwards, ostensibly to assist that campaign.

However, Cedric was covertly recording Elam and, it is claimed, reporting back to two senior police officers, C/Supt Andy Brennan and DCI Simon Bottomley (now chief superintendent). Cedric also lied about his own involvement in two covert operations into Elam, codenamed Operation Primary and Operation Teddington. Unaware that formal documents had been unearthed by Neil Wilby with Cedric’s spidery, but distinct, signature on them.

In another remarkable coincidence, towards the end of his prison sentence at HMP Hatfield, Ralph Christie came into close contact with Andrew John Rudd, whose covertly recorded evidence played a significant part in the conviction of John Elam. Rudd, for reasons that are still unexplained, was allowed to live the high life in Marbella, driving a distinctive Bentley motor car and residing in a £2 million villa for a number of years, by West Yorkshire Police, despite an arrest warrant being in place and claiming they couldn’t locate him for almost 8 years. A task that took an Andalusian private investigator less than a day, complete with photographs of Rudd, his car, and his luxury home.

Cedric Christie also lied to senior detectives, and at least one chief constable, about his involvement with the well-known police whistleblower website, unProfessional Standards Department (uPSD). This followed Operation Vertex, an investigation into ACC Ingrid Lee, following her catastrophic ‘whitewash’ of the force’s involvement with Jimmy Savile, in which Cedric was named as one of the two complainants against Lee. Neil Wilby was the other. The investigation outcome and report, compiled by Nick Gargan, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police at the time, was highly critical of WYP.

Cedric was, in fact, a significant contributor to uPSD at the time of its formation – and it is a matter of record that the Twitter account @uPSDWYP was opened with the main intention of supporting the PCC election campaign. It has never emerged why he went to such extraordinary lengths to conceal that involvement.

Ingrid Lee was Cedric’s boss, and nemesis, during the latter stages of his police career, removing him from his senior post in the Economic Crime Unit and allocating him a ‘non-job’, stripped of detective status, in the Safer Leeds community liaison team. It was a spectacular fall from grace. One that made him ill – and he retired from the force in 2011 having spent a considerable part of the last 2 years of his service on extended sick leave, whilst pursuing grievances against Lee and other senior officers.

This followed the discovery by the police of an investment of £100,000, by Cedric, into Ralph’s property business in 2008. He made a profit of over £7,000 in around 3 months on that investment. Cedric denied any impropriety concerning the fortuitous arrangement and, although interviewed at Wetherby Police Station, by a senior officer, DCI Frances Naughton (now a superintendent with the North Yorkshire force), he was not formally disciplined or charged over it.

Cedric Christie then tried to divert attention from his own troubles by publicly claiming that Neil Wilby was ‘a police informant‘ and, it seems, encouraging at least one other individual, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to do the same. That person is a rape victim, the perpetrator having admitted the crime in police interview, but not prosecuted, and another with well grounded, bitterly-fought, long-running miscarriage of justice issues with both West Yorkshire Police and their neighbours, and junior partners, in a grotsque and long-running ‘cover-up’, North Yorkshire Police.

During his incarceration, and as can be seen here in this piece, there was certainly no shortage of action surrounding the Ralph Christie case in his absence.

After his early release from HMP Hatfield Lakes on 4th January, 2018 he was ordered to attend the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Centre (WYCRC) in Wakefield the following day, where he produced his signed probation licence. It expires on 6th July, 2021. WYCRC is operated by Interserve plc, presently in serious financial difficulties. The supervising officer assigned to his case was Anne-Marie Carrott.

The main requirements of a licensee, for those not adjacent to the prison system, are:

– Good behaviour

– Not to commit any offence

– Keep in touch with supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by him/her

– Receive home visits from the supervising officer

– Reside at an approved permanent address and obtain approval for any overnight stay at a different address

– Only undertake work unless approved by supervising officer

– No travel outside of UK, except with permission

It appears, from correspondence between the two, that a good working relationship was established from the outset and maintained. Christie was licenced to an address in Wakefield where he had the permission of the owner to stay.

Because of concerns raised about his safety from retaliation by Halifax-based drug dealers, whom both Christie brothers had helped convict in two investigations codenamed Operation Godstone and Operation Facedome, West Yorkshire Police put in place risk assessments and security arrangements, at the behest of their chief constable, Dionne Collins. To whom a letter, setting out the perceived dangers and threats, had been sent by leading Bradford criminal defence solicitor, Simon Hustler.

Those safety concerns were raised again, by Christie, with Ms Carrott at WYCRC on 22nd March.

In early May 2018, Christie travelled to Greece and notified a permanent address in that country to Ms Carrott. He had been given permission to go there to attempt to realise assets on the island in order to raise funds to discharge the POCA Order.

A return to UK in October, 2018 was described as ‘a visit’ in correspondence with his supervising officer. By this time, Laura Martindale.

Ms Martindale tried to arrange a visit to the Wakefield address on 13th March, 2019. That was not progressed after she learned that permission to reside at the property had been withdrawn by its owner and Christie was still at his home in Crete.

In May, 2019 Christie received an email from the manager at WYCRC, Richard Brotton, who was about to leave his post. He copied in his colleague, Janine Pedley, who was to take over the matter, subsequently. Mr Brotton raised the conflict with his licence terms and residency in his home on Crete.

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Ralph Christie: “I will never stop fighting to clear my name”

After it was pointed out that Ralph Christie would be both homeless and jobless if he returned to the UK, correspondence from WYCMC appeared to lapse. It is a highly unusual case, where a Greek resident, convicted over offences committed on the island of Crete, is held on a prison licence in the UK. One that, no doubt, has perplexed a number of bright minds within the offender management system. It is made even more complex by the unresolved civil court case and the need to realise assets on Crete to discharge the POCA obligation.

That was the last correpondence from a supervising officer until early 2020. From the available correspondence, there were no home visits arranged, or attendances required at the WYCRC offices in Wakefield, during that period.

The reasonable inference to be drawn was that Ralph Christie was better served trying to repay the debt from his home base in Crete and, as he had caused no-one at the probation service any issues, there was no good reason to disturb that process: Necessarily slow, as the police still persist with the freezing orders they requested as far back as 2009 and other assets are, or have been, subject to other legal processes due to his protracted absence from the island.

At one point during his prison sentence, arrangements were made by the Home Office to deport Christie back to his home in Crete under the early release scheme for foreign offenders (often referred to by the acronym, ERSED). This was due to take place on 10th April, 2017. From the available documents, there appears to have been an unseen hand more adjacent to West Yorkshire, than London SW1, preventing that process from being fulfilled.

In the early part of 2020, there was an attempted reconciliation between the Christie brothers, at first in Athens, then in Crete, during which, it is said, Cedric admitted his role in the investigations that played a part in the conviction of his elder brother. A matter, Ralph says, he had always previously tried to conceal.

On 9th February, 2020 Cedric stormed out of a meeting with his brother and Geoffrey Brown, an investor in Ralph’s property business and a long-term supporter ever since, saying Ralph should be back in prison. The reason for the younger brother’s hasty departure was the revelation that his role in the conviction of Ralph, either actual or perceived, formed a significant part of the appeal documents that are in preparation for submission to the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Two days later, on 11th February, 2020 Ralph Christie received an email, out of the blue, from yet another WYCRC supervising officer, Shahid Ibrahim: A meeting was required to take place at their offices in Wakefield on 6th March, 2020.

That date is just a few weeks before an important civil trial was due to start in Chania, the capital of Crete, to settle disputes between Ralph Christie and his former business partner, the aforementioned Stephen Thomas. The latter, unexpectedly, failed appear in criminal proceedings on the island in which Christie was exonerated (read full verdict here).

That criminal trial took place in October, 2013. Thomas was the complainant and main prosecution witness. He claims that he was subjected to threats and forced to leave the island.

In spite of his evidenced status as a partner of Ralph Christie, and being the subject of very serious fraud allegations by his ex-wife, involving large sums of cash concealed from her during their divorce settlement, Stephen Thomas was not  arrested, or charged with any offences, during the Operation Laggan investigation. He was not called as a witness at the Christie trial in 2015, either, despite being the original complainant back in 2009.

His brother, Simon Thomas, is one of the victims of the Christie convictions.

Starting with the first email from Mr Ibrahim (who appears to be also employed by a company based in Bradford) until mid-March, there is a significant amount of correspondence between him and Ralph Christie. It encompasses a quite extraordinary travel odyssey that ended with Christie being arrested at Athens airport by Greek police when about to board a connecting flight to Heathrow, en route to the meeting at Wakefield. Following his release from custody at the airport, and a visit to the British Consulate in Athens, it transpires that Christie is subject to a travel ban from Greece (and Crete) until the completion of the civil trial. A matter confirmed fully by the consulate to Mr Ibrahim, both by telephone, and via email, and later by Christie’s Greek lawyers.

Christie also has pre-existing health conditions that would have rendered him vulnerable in the Corona Virus pandemic, particularly if he was returned to prison. In the face of all this, Mr Ibrahim’s response was to insist, very firmly, that the 6th March meeting in Wakefield was to go ahead. The virus, he said, was not an issue beyond washing of hands, which, to be fair to the supervising officer, was also the Government line at that time.

He did not, however, respond to emails sent by Christie on 8th and 11th March, asking for clarification in the light of the travel ban, and consequent difficulties leaving Greece, and, of course, by then, the worsening pandemic. Instead, he emailed on the day following the second email blankly stating that Christie’s prison licence had been revoked – and he was to make his way back to the UK, whereupon he would be arrested and taken back to prison. That would seem to indicate that the decision had already been made to revoke the licence, prior to the first Ibrahim email in February, 2020. The ‘meeting’ on 6th March in Wakefield was simply a convenient time and location at which to serve Christie with the notice and arrange for his arrest and detention.

Dated 12th March, 2020 the ‘Licence Revocation and Recall to Custody’ document sets out that Ralph Christie had:

– Failed to attend appointment(s) with supervising officer

– Failed to attend pre-arranged home visit(s)

– Failed to reside as approved

– Allegedly committed a further offence

– Displayed poor behaviour

– Other

It goes on to say that the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS) will send a dossier, giving comfirmation of the reasons why the recall has been made, once the licencee is back in prison. Which, viewed independently, might appear a little harsh: “We’ll arrest you, put you back in prison, and then tell you why, in more detail, having just used a formulaic, scattergun approach to revoke the licence knowing that some, if not most, of the allegations have no basis in fact or evidence”.

Whatever the views about Ralph Christie, and there are, on occasions, very strong opinions at both ends of the spectrum, the fact remains that he is a white collar criminal, attempting to raise the money to repay his victims, who was of unblemished character (in the eyes of the law) prior to the 2015 trial at Bradford, and presents no flight risk. He was, for example, on unconditional police bail for 3 years, with free passage between his home in Crete and the UK – and has answered every call on his bail and never missed a court appearance.

Since the communication from Mr Ibrahim on 12th March, there has been extensive email correspondence with the aforementioned Janine Pedley. She is always responsive, professional, patient and courteous, if not a little exasperated, in her dealings with Ralph Christie.

She has also forwarded the file on to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in Petty France, London. Christie has previously had extensive dealings with NOMS regarding the controversy over credit for time served on remand, prior to conviction. The upshot of which is that the prison service has defied recommendations from two different circuit judges and added 84 days rather than deducted them. A total penalty of over 5 months. Ralph Christie, not unreasonably, maintains that in those circumstances he should have been released on licence in 2017 with his licence expiring at the beginning of 2021.

In answer to Christie’s requests for particulars of the allegations against him, Ms Pedley simply says, in an email dated 14th April, 2020: “Your licence was revoked because you were not given permission to leave the UK indefinitely¨.

That is very different to what is stated on the formal Revocation of Licence. It also chimes with enquiries made of West Yorkshire Police, who say that there are no complaints recorded on their crime systems that have been made since the issue of his licence and Christie has, certainly, not been contacted by them in connection with any allegations, or received any intimation from any person, or lawyer representing them, that such a complaint would likely be forthcoming.

There are no missed appointments at the WYCRC offices, apart from the very recent one on 6th March, 2020 or missed home visits, apart from the one on 13th March, 2019, which was not pursued by the supervising officer. That is clear from examination of email trails of all correspondence between the various supervising officers and the licencee.

Those same email trails reveal a cordial relationship between the parties at all times and it is difficult in those circumstances to reconcile such conduct with an allegation of ‘bad behaviour’.

On strict reading of the licence there has been a breach, there can be no argument about that. But, in the exceptional circumstances that prevail, on any number of legal and moral premises, it might seem to the man in the street that justice, fairness, the public interest and the public purse might all be better served by an amended licence, rather than a revocation. That would also reconcile with the Ministry of Justice’s aim to try to reduce the prison population during the pandemic.

Who will win the tug of war over Ralph Christie’s liberty remains to be seen. He cannot leave Greece and, even if no travel ban by the courts was in place, in the present circumstances of the virus pandemic it would not be advisable to do so, for the foreseeable future. The containment of Corona Virus will also determine the resumption of the civil court proceedings which appear to be the key to unlocking many of the doors presently barred.

This is, clearly, a story with some way to run. Indeed, very shortly after publication of this article, Christie received a letter from the PPCS, following several requests, setting out the formal position, absent of reasons or evidence, regarding the recall to prison.

(i) Be of good behaviour and not do anything which could undermine the purposes of the licence period;

(iii) Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

This, again, is different to the Licence Revocation and, of course, not the same ground(s) as that given by Ms Pedley in earlier correspondence. Christie, meanwhile, is trying to raise funds to challenge the decision.

The eagle-eyed will also have spotted that, most curiously, there is no reason (ii).

It has now been clarified by PPCS that the recall was for 28 days, after which the Parole Board could consider re-licencing Ralph Christie. All of which, one might say, was an awful lot of work, for a considerable number of people, to put in danger not only the licencee but prisoners, prison officers, probation officers with whom he might come into contact after six hours in two aeroplanes during the journey back to the UK from Crete.

Questions have been put to the Ministry of Justice, the CPS and, of course, West Yorkshire Police. Any responses will be posted in a later update.

Cedric Christie was given specific right of reply.

“This article was published before the expiration of the period you gave me to reply. However that does not particularly concern me.

I do not consider that I have lied in either of the circumstances you have described.

There are also some points you make in the above article about Ralph’s case that imply that I’ve been mischievous in his regard. I do not agree. I have information and documents that I believe would support my view. It is my personal opinion that the WYP investigation into his Cretan financial affairs was inadequate.

Perhaps some communication may resolve the above aspects”.

The further communication is keenly awaited, particularly in respect of the, as yet, unanswered matters relating to his private investigations in Crete and his view that his brother should be back in prison.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 14th May, 2020 at 1825 hours

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