Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED January 21, 2003

Convictions for conspiracy to cheat the public revenue were unsafe and had to be quashed as the defendant's application for a stay for abuse of process might have succeeded if the Crown had not given certain assurances as a result of being misled by a customs officer, over evidence in unrelated trials, which indicated that trade had been diverted from one bonded warehouse to another with custom's knowledge.Defendant's appeals against convictions following trial on 14 and 15 February 2001 at Wood Green Crown Court in which all the defendants, apart from Boparan who pleaded guilty, were convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. All the defendants were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. During the second half of 1990 duty on spirits and cigarettes was evaded by the creation of false documentation, which recorded the movement of goods from London City Bond ('LCB'), a bonded warehouse, to other bonded warehouses in the United Kingdom and Europe. In reality the goods went elsewhere. Customs became aware of the fraud and arranged for two managers ('B' and 'C') of LCB to become informants. Customs failed to follow Home Office guidelines and that was concealed from the trial judge (unconnected to the present appeals). It came to light following appeals in November 2001 whereby convictions were quashed and retrials ordered. The circumstances of the present appeals arose from the setting up of Fort Patrick ('FP'), a bonded warehouse in Ipswich. FP was set up by Grant in order to facilitate fraud. Boparan was a trader and the rest of the defendants were haulers. Goods were received from a number of sources including some 37 per cent from LCB. It was the prosecutions case that 194 lorries loaded at FP with beers, wines and spirits bound for a bonded warehouse in Spain never arrived and were diverted to destinations in the UK. No excise duty or VAT was paid on the goods with a loss of ?22 million to the revenue. Following arrest and charge the defence asked for disclosure of documents relating to B, C and customs, suggesting customs may have been aware of the movement of goods from LCB to FP and allowed it to happen. In the absence of those documents an application was to be made for the trial to be stayed for an abuse of process. Early in 2001, before the unrelated appeals were heard, the Crown made public interest immunity ('PII') applications. The judge asked the Crown specifically, in the PII hearings and in open court, whether it had any material showing customs had diverted trade from LCB to FP. Customs answered in the negative. As a result the judge refused the application to stay proceedings stating it was mischievous and that the defendants were trying to import the LCB problems into the unconnected case of FP. At the attempted re-trial of the unrelated cases further material emerged. A customs officer, Mr Small was called and admitted that he had misled prosecution counsel and judges who had dealt with matters of disclosure. Contact with B and C was greater than disclosed and no record was made of this. His evidence indicated, inter alia, that goods were transferred from LCB to FP with his knowledge. As a result the Crown abandoned the retrial. The defendants, in the present case, appealed on the ground that: (i) the convictions were unsafe because the Crown could not maintain its assurances made at the PII hearing; and (ii) if the Crown could not have given those assurances the application might have been successful.HELD: (1) The court was constrained to agree. If those matters had emerged before the abuse proceedings then the argument on abuse would have been presented in a more forcible manner. (2) It followed that the convictions were unsafe and should be quashed. It was a melancholy result. The court was compelled to allow the appeal even in relation to the defendant who had pleaded guilty.Appeals allowed and convictions quashed.