Met Police ‘removed text messages from suspect’s phone that supported defence’ Court of Appeal told
EXCLUSIVE: THE Met Police has been accused of withholding text messages, allegedly sent by “a disgruntled ex lover,” that may have supported the defence of a man during an “exemplary” drug supply and proceeds of crime prosecution.,
Julian Wright 56, was convicted of cannabis supply and possession of criminal property at Snaresbrook Crown Court in 2016 and ordered to pay £333,000 as proceeds of crime as part of an operation to “raise the profile” of asset-based prosecutions.
Wright was convicted as the result of an operation by the Met Police that aimed to show other London borough areas what could be achieved by making the Proceeds of Crime Act a key part of criminal investigations.
Wright faces losing a number of rental properties, but the proceeds of crime case has been adjourned, pending the outcome of his appeal.
The criminal case heard police began investigating after being informed by staff at the Big Yellow Storage in Gants Hill, east London, of a smell of cannabis from one of the lock-ups.
Snaresbrook Crown Court heard sniffer dogs were sent to investigate and cannabis was later discovered at a property Wright owned, and rented to tenants.
Wright, from Ilford, east London, is appealing the conviction, amid claims the investigation was actually sparked by his “bitter ex” Joanne Burt contacting police to make drug dealing allegations about him, but this detail was “kept out of the prosecution.”
His appeal, lodged at the Court of Appeal, states that messages he says were sent to him by Ms Burt, that he referred to in his defence during the trial, had been removed from his phone and their existence was denied by the prosecution.His grounds of appeal claims text messages, sent to him before his 2014 arrest by former girlfriend Joanne Burt, included threats he would be raided by police, jailed, and “done for money laundering,” but these were not disclosed during the prosecution and were no longer on his phone when he got it back from police.
The document, filed with the Court of Appeal, added that Wright believes all messages were deleted from his iPhone while it was with the investigating team and before it was returned by police.
However, he was able to recover them by synchronising the phone with a previous iCloud backup saved on a desktop, his appeal claims.
His defence at trial was that cannabis found at the property was “planted by his ex who then called police to allege it was his.”The trial judge was assured by the prosecution that all phone messages had been disclosed.
Prosecuting at the trial, Afolake Jaja suggested Wright concocted the story about being threatened by Miss Burt with police action and that the texts existed.The appeal was submitted late, but the grounds state: “The delay is the result of a number of issues including the return of the iPhone (fresh evidence), the retrieval of relevant text messages from the iPhone, obtaining transcripts of the court hearing and instructing new representatives.
“There is one ground of appeal, namely, there is fresh evidence as per section 23 of the Criminal Appeals Act 1968, in the form of text messages retrieved from an iPhone backup, which were not presented before the jury and as a result the conviction is unsafe.”
The applicant’s defence was that none of the cannabis found at the property, but for a very small quantity for personal use, belonged to him.”The applicant asserted that he had received text messages from a disgruntled ex-partner, Miss Joanne Burt, and she was responsible for planting cannabis at the property and subsequently contacted police to allege the cannabis was the applicant’s.”
The grounds of appeal added: “(Wright) went on to say that the messages from Mrs Burt appear to have gone missing from his phone in what appeared to be the police wanting to keep Mrs Burt out of any investigation.”
The document states that the alleged recovered texts from the backup included:
“Be prepared for what will now come to you…”
“ The police have been here tonight. They are coming for you now…”
“Going to prison OK.”
The document said the recovered texts were “fresh evidence” and added: “It is submitted that regard can be given to the impact the missing messages would have had on the jury when considering the applicant’s evidence.”
The conclusion left to the jury was either the applicant was not telling the truth or the police had spiked his defence by concealing text messages.
“Given the fresh evidence, it is submitted, this decision should not have been left to the jury.”
At a preliminary hearing, three judges asked Ms Jaja to confirm if the messages in question were in the CPS trial bundle and if they were ever disclosed.
She said she was “unable to answer” as the investigating officer was looking through hundreds of pages of texts to see if they were there.
The CPS was given time to answer the question and the case was adjourned.
Separately, an Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into claims officers at Charring Cross Police station “perverted the course of justice by deleting messages relevant to a criminal investigation” continues after being launched more than two years ago.
An IOPC spokesman said: “We may have an update in August.”