Diamonds trial Briton tells of witchdoctor scam

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The Independent Online
A British aid worker accused of stealing two diamonds worth pounds 250,000 arrived home yesterday after having his six-year jail sentence overturned by the Gambian Supreme Court.

Phil McLean, 40, was found guilty last July of stealing the jewels from Pateh Bowaro, a tribal warlord whom he and his girlfriend, Lyn Cummins, met on a charity trip to Gambia.

Speaking from his girlfriend's home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, Mr McLean said he had been the victim of a 'scam'.

'I was set up by two people: an Englishman posing as a friend, and a witchdoctor. They are the best conmen I have ever met. They have played the same tricks on others too,' he said.

The court hearing last July was told that Mr McLean had been asked to take diamonds to London to have them valued. It was claimed that he sold the diamonds and, when he returned to Gambia, pretended they were topaz stones worth only pounds 300. He denied that, but was jailed for two years with an alternative of being fined pounds 333 on condition that he repayed the cost of the alleged diamonds, or a further four years in prison if he failed to pay.

Mr McLean was later put on bail for pounds 6,000 provided he did not leave the country. On Thursday, the magistrate's decision was overruled. Mr McLean had his passport handed back.

'The appeal judge said the police should never have even taken the case to court,' Mr McLean said. 'I had been warned by the jeweller in London that I might have got myself into a spot of trouble, but I was too naive to take notice. Living in Weymouth all your life you don't really see a lot of bad things. But having been stuck out there for 16 months I think I've done my apprenticeship.'

He said that during the months leading up to his appeal, he was subjected to frequent intimidation and threatened with a curse. 'A friend of mine actually witnessed the witchdoctor throw down some cowhorns, take off his shirt and dance around the horns to put a curse on me. I suffered from ill- health after that. It affected me psychologically.

'My girlfriend and I bought a 30-bedroom motel in Talinding before all this happened. We were planning to settle down out there. Then while all this was happening that witchdoctor went in and sold it back to the original owner. We have lost pounds 80,000.

'Without Lyn's support I would have stood less of a chance of surviving. I could have died. We are planning to get married now. It is just a question of saving up the money. Lyn has got a job selling ice-cream. I'll look for something in the fishing or building line.'