Interpol's top target wins delay in pounds 100m drug trial

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The Independent Online
The trial in the Netherlands of a Briton accused of running Europe's biggest drugs ring was halted yesterday after claims that the evidence against him may have been contaminated.

The development in the case against 32-year-old Curtis Warren, codenamed Target One by Interpol and charged in connection with an alleged pounds 100m cocaine smuggling plot, raised immediate questions over cross-border co- operation between European police and customs.

Han Jahae, for the defence, maintained that methods used by British investigators to gather information on Mr Warren, a businessman from Liverpool, rendered the prosecution null and void. He demanded the UK authorities reveal exactly how the evidence was obtained.

Mr Jahae told the central criminal court at The Hague that the use of phone taps, and the fact that British authorities would not divulge details of their informants, were contrary to Dutch procedure.

He maintained that information obtained in the UK which had been used to charge Mr Warren in Britain on a previous occasion should not be admitted. The only evidence admissible was that obtained by an independent Dutch investigation.

The presiding judge, Irene De Vries, adjourned the case until 5 June, and asked for four extra witnesses to be called, including two British customs officers, Nick Baker and Phil Byrne.

Mr Warren was acquitted in l993 at Newcastle Crown Court on charges involving pounds 250m worth of drugs hidden in ingots.

In October last year he was arrested by Dutch police near Rotterdam Europort. A raid on a ship in the dock led to the recovery of 800kg of Colombian cocaine, with a street value of pounds 75m, secreted in aluminium ingots. Raids in Amsterdam and Rotterdam netted more drugs, bringing the total value to pounds 100m, as well as a cache of hand grenades, automatic weapons, and CS gas canisters.

Dutch police had acted on information from Britain as part of a six- month operation, codenamed Crayfish, involving Dutch investigators, British customs, and officers from the North-West Regional Crime Squad.

Six other Britons were arrested and charged with Mr Warren. They include Stephen Mee, from Liverpool, who escaped from a prison van on the way to Manchester Crown Court in 1993 but was sentenced in absentia to 22 years in jail on charges of smuggling cocaine from Colombia.

Mr Mee, and another defendant, Ray Nolan, 28, from Liverpool, allegedly gave false names to the Dutch police. The other defendants are John Farrell, 34, from Manchester; Stephen Whitehead, also 34, from Oldham; William Fitzgerald, 55, and William Riley, 47, both from Liverpool.

Yesterday, after being remanded in custody until 5 June, Mr Warren said: "It is important that you investigate how the English got their information. Why did they need to claim public immunity?"