The families of the Freshwater Five, who were jailed for trying to smuggle 250kg of cocaine into the UK, say there is “a bit of light at the end of the tunnel” as an appeal by two of the men nears its conclusion.
Jonathan Beere, 51, and Daniel Payne, 46, were jailed in 2011 for 24 and 18 years respectively for conspiracy to import £53 million of cocaine into the UK via Freshwater Bay, off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
Payne and three of his co-defendants – Jamie Green, Scott Birtwistle and Zoran Dresic – were said to have collected the drugs from the English Channel in a fishing boat, the Galwad-Y-Mor, in May 2010.
Beere was alleged to have acted as a liaison between Green, the skipper of the Galwad who was also jailed for 24 years, and those organising the smuggling.
At their trial in 2011, Kingston Crown Court heard the Galwad crossed the path of the Oriane, a container ship sailing from Brazil, and then slowed down to collect the cocaine.
But the Court of Appeal heard this week that new radar evidence showed that “the Galwad never crossed behind the Oriane”, meaning it was “simply impossible” for them to have collected the drugs.
Beere and Payne’s barrister Joel Bennathan QC said on Tuesday that the new data “transforms the picture that was presented to the jury”.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the third day of the appeal on Thursday, Beere’s wife Sue Beere said she hoped the convictions would be overturned so her family could “get our lives back”.
She said: “We are never going to get the last 10-and-a-bit years back, but we can start trying to rebuild it.”
Green’s sister Nicky Green said she was “hopeful that the court is going to see the injustice here”, adding: “There has been some dark days along the way, but now … there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”
Birtwistle – who is not appealing against his conviction at this hearing as a previous appeal he brought was dismissed – said of the appeal so far: “I feel deep down it’s positive, but you just never know.”
He said that if Beere and Payne’s convictions were overturned, he would try and challenge his own conviction through the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Birtwistle, who was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, said if his conviction was eventually overturned: “I would go back to sea – that’s probably the thing I’ve missed the most, which I’ve not been able to do with probation restrictions.”
He also said the amount of public support for the Freshwater Five was “humbling”, adding: “It’s just incredible the amount of people who are supporting us.”
If the appeals were dismissed, Birtwistle said: “We will just continue fighting … we will not stop.”
The hearing before Sir Julian Flaux, Mr Justice Andrew Baker and Mr Justice Calver is expected to conclude on Friday morning. It is likely judgment will be given at a later date.