The murder convictions of five men for a gangland-hit were quashed after damning reports were withheld detailing how police handlers took a key witness out drinking to nightclubs and turned a blind eye to his criminal behaviour, the Appeal Court said yesterday.
Three judges said that the defence teams of the alleged killers were denied an important report that showed that members of Staffordshire police were part of a "dysfunctional" team fractured by in-fighting, whose honesty and integrity were open to question and whose paperwork could not be trusted.
The report was ordered by one of four senior police officers currently under criminal investigation over allegations that key material was withheld from the court which led to the quashed convictions.
Five men were given sentences of more than 135 years for murdering the drug dealer Kevin Nunes, 20, following a trial in 2008 based largely on the evidence of Simeon Taylor, who allegedly drove the alleged killers and the victim to the scene of the hit. Mr Nunes, an amateur footballer once on the books of Tottenham Hotspur, was found dead in a country road in Staffordshire following a drugs feud.
The convictions of the five were quashed in March after the manager of the Sensitive Policing Unit of Staffordshire Police claimed that there was "corruption, falsification and dishonesty" within the team, and clashed with other members as he tried to make it more accountable and transparent.
The inspector claimed that Mr Taylor was being kept on the witness protection programme "at any cost" and there was an understanding that he would get £20,000 reward money. Officers were accused of turning a blind eye to alleged wrongdoing by Mr Taylor including him claiming back £320 for an unused hotel room paid for by police to keep him onside before he gave evidence.
One officer with access to key documents in the case was accused of having an affair with one of the witness handlers at the same hotel where he was being kept before the trial. A management review found that the officers' conduct was "totally unprofessional" but details of the relationship were not handed to defence teams who could have questioned whether key information was passed to Mr Taylor, the court found.
Lord Justice Hooper said that the defence was never told that the inspector was in a position to give evidence that "would have seriously undermined both the credibility of Simeon Taylor" and the integrity of his handers.
The judge said that if the information had been available at the trial, the judge might have stopped the proceedings "on the grounds that there had been gross prosecutorial misbehaviour".
An inquiry is being carried out under the auspices of the Independent Police Complaints Commission over allegations that material was withheld from the court. Four senior police officers from three forces are under criminal investigation including Northamptonshire Chief Constable Adrian Lee and his deputy Suzette Davenport – who ordered the management review – and who both served in the Staffordshire force.
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