What Is it all about ?
A secret undercover police unit known as the Special Projects Team (part of West Midlands Police & Counter Terrorism Unit) working with MI5, ran an undercover operation in an attempt to obtain evidence from the four wrongfully convicted men. The police set up a fake courier firm and lured two of the men (Naweed and Khobaib) into employment as couriers, making deliveries in courier vans and leaving their cars with their employer. It became clear during the course of the trial that the courier vans, as well as their cars were fitted with surveillance equipment.
However, after a month of surveillance of the first man to be employed, Khobaib, no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever was obtained during his deliveries or in conversations in his van or in his own car.
The second man to accept the offer of courier employment was Naweed Ali. His first day at work was a month after his friend Khobaib had started working as a courier. He arrived for work early in the morning and was instructed to make deliveries to Luton.
Naweed left his car and car keys without hesitation in the hands of the undercover police officer, Vincent, who was acting as the boss of the fake courier firm. Vincent had sole possession of Naweed’s car and car keys for more than an hour whilst he was on his own in the fake courier firm depot.
Almost an hour and twenty minutes later MI5 agents arrive at the depot to install surveillance equipment in Naweed’s car. The evidence given at the trial was that British Security Service operatives arrived on the premises and fitted the surveillance equipment and began to search the car. The discovered a bag that contained a meat cleaver with the word “kafir” scratched on it, a fake gun (later revealed to be an air pistol) with a magazine taped to it by sticky tape and an “improvised explosive device” – a “pipe bomb” consisting of a metal pipe with gunpowder inside. In addition, in the bag were a number of shotgun cartridges and a single bullet as well as a roll of tape and some napkins. This is explained in more detail below.
Yes, very strange……
Would you leave your car and car keys ‘without hesitation’ (Vincent’s own words during the trial) with a stranger knowing the car contains a bag full of illegal weapons? Knowing before you even attended the premises for work that day that is what you would be expected to do? Would you drive around with such a bag in your car – bright and multi coloured and according to those who discovered it sticking out from under the driver’s seat – a car that was used by other members of the family and which Naweed used to drive around his parents and other friends and relatives on a daily basis?
The question is…….
Did this bag belong to Naweed or was it planted in his car by Vincent the uncover police officer and boss of the fake courier firm? “Vincent” to whom Naweed gave the keys to his car “without hesitation” that morning, who then drove Naweed’s car inside the premises and remained there alone with the car for almost an hour and a half. A premise which to no surprise had no cameras and was fully secure for Vincent.
The truth always prevails…
There was no evidence to link Naweed or Khobaib to the bag or its contents. Both men shortly after their arrest whilst still in the police station said that they knew nothing about the bag or its contents. Three months later when the prosecution finally disclosed that “Vincent” was an undercover officer and the courier business was a fake company both Naweed and Khobaib stopped speculating about how the bag and its contents had come to be in the car – they understood immediately that “Vincent” must have put it there.
Key features that supported Naweed Ali’s account
- No fingerprints or DNA (see below) from either of the men was discovered on the bag itself or any of its contents.
- More than a month of sophisticated police surveillance showed absolutely nothing that Naweed or Khobaib did that was consistent with them acquiring any of the items in the bag. For example, there was no evidence of them going into any shops or making any purchases relevant to the contents of the bag. There was no evidence of them having any suspicious meetings where they may have acquired the contents of the bag.
- The bag in question, a “Multi-coloured JD Sports bag” was a different bag than the one Khobaib had acquired when he made a purchase earlier that summer at JD Sports. CCTV monitoring, showed that he emerged from JD Sports with a black and white bag not a multi-coloured bag.
- Neither of the men were ever seen with the multi coloured bag at the heart of this case. Naweed was never even seen with a bag of this type. He was under surveillance when he left his house to drive to the courier depot for his first shift. He had no bag with him.
- Regardless of this fact, Vincent claimed to have seen Khobaib with a multi coloured bag. He is the only person linked to the investigation to have claimed to do so.
Failed police attempt to link Khobaib to the contents of the JD sports bag…. via sticky tape and napkins
Why would a fake gun have a magazine taped to it with sticky tape and why might a roll of sticky rape and some napkins be in the bag? The answer came late in the trial. The prosecution re-ran its DNA tests. This time a re-run with a new method showed a dramatic development – Khobaib Hussain’s DNA was said to have now been discovered on the roll of sticky tape. The defence conducted their own tests, took DNA samples from Khobaib’s family, and came up with an astonishing fact – the DNA was predominantly that of Khobaib Hussain’s sister and not Khobaib.
The car that Khobaib drove and left with Vincent while on the fake courier deliveries was a car he shared with his sister. She gave evidence that she regularly left napkins in the glove compartment of the car. Khobaib left his car and car keys with Vincent each time he went to work. Vincent therefore had ample opportunity to take napkins from within the car, scrub it around the steering wheel, and rub it on to a roll of sticky tape?
This was clearly Vincent’s failed attempt to plant a sample of what he assumed would be Khobaib’s DNA in the bag, when in fact what was left on the sticky tape was the wrong DNA – primarily that of Khobaib’s sister.
So, Vincent got the wrong bag and the wrong DNA…
During the trial, the evidence clearly showed that Vincent had fabricated entries in his notebook said by him to be a contemporaneous record. In the most glaring error he recorded receiving an email on the day before the email was actually sent. The contents of his notebook were inconsistent with the debriefs he had regarding the same days and events.
The fabrication of evidence in police notebooks was the reason why many convictions in the past were overturned, including that of the Birmingham 6, Guildford 4, the three defendants wrongly convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock in Tottenham and numerous cases of wrongly convicted defendants at the hands of the disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.
Falsifying notebooks is a criminal act and in those cases, once discovered, had involved the immediate suspension of the police officers concerned. In this case, shockingly the trial continued and Vincent was permitted to retain his blanket anonymity. He has not been the subject of any criminal or other investigation.
So the wrong bag, the wrong DNA and a dodgy notebook!
Vincent, and his fellow corrupt police officers, trying to cover their backs by deleting text messages and meeting in secret locations during the trial
- Police phones were seized during the trial, after it had emerged that text messages had been deleted but were retrievable.
- The text messages showed that Vincent was predicting every aspect of the evidence before it was “found” by the Security Service witnesses or analysed by experts. He described to others the contents of the JD Sports bag before they had been identified. He described the firearm to his supervisor as a “Beretta air pistol” at a time when all other witnesses had described it to be a real self-loading pistol.
- It was not discovered to be an air pistol until a firearms expert identified it as such later that evening and considerably after Vincent’s description.
- He was also able to describe the JD Sports bag before it had been removed from the car – the photographs taken by MI5 officers at the search showed that the JD Sports logo was not visible.
- He also predicted via text messages to an MI5 officer that something would be recovered from a search of Naweed’s car.
- He sent a text messages saying “It’s a sticky tape story” attached to a winking emoji, which he could not explain when he gave evidence. Although this became significant shortly before the prosecution ended their case when they sought to rely on the discovery of Khobaib’s DNA on the roll of sticky tape in the bag.
- The level of concern amongst the two key undercover officers reflected in the messages echoed the concern of guilty men – after the arrests:
“cud u check with BSS (British Security Services) that the tec they fitted in Naweed Ali’s car isn’t running/recording and won’t have been wen we were in unit earlier etc? Thanx”.
- It was obvious they were concerned that the audio/tech might have caught Vincent planting the bag and / or any discussions that might have taken place relevant to his illegal activities that morning. Again, Vincent and the others had no sensible explanation as to why they were so concerned about the tech being on.
- The multiple occasions in which officers were communicating with each other during the course of giving evidence. Vincent denied doing so. He was however recalled to give evidence when messages were retrieved from his phone which showed that he had lied in evidence and he was in fact in contact with other officers, including senior officers, sometimes within minutes of stepping out of the witness box or shortly before starting his evidence.
- Clearly honest officers, such as one undercover officer Haji was sent away from the courier premises inexplicably on a bogus enterprise long before the “find”, having been told that “something had developed” long before it had.
Why did the Jury give the wrong verdict?
Events taking place during the course of the trial would without doubt have had an impact on the jury.
The first was the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge on the 22nd March 2017, just as the trial was beginning. There had not been an attack on civilians in London since 2005.
There were then three further terrorist attacks during the course of the trial – the attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the London Bridge attack and the attack near the Finsbury Park Mosque.
The sheer horror of such events would inevitably have an impact upon a jury.
The impact of these events (which took place so close to the court) must have been immediate, personal and emotive.
The defence requested for the trial to be adjourned and the jury to be discharged due to the heightened climate following the terrorist attacks. The judge refused the request by the defence and ruled the defendants could have a fair trial regardless of the terrorist attacks taking place during the trial.
This was a case where it was the defence that police had fabricated evidence required a full bloodied criticism of the conduct of the police and Security Services at a time when both were being extensively praised as heroes and where a policeman had been killed in a terrorist attack.
The attacks must have created a pressure upon the jury to convict and “not let the defendants go, for fear of a future attack” despite the evidence.
Was anonymity justified?
Undercover police and Security Service witnesses enjoy the unique protection of anonymity. Their identities are never allowed to be known and their personal circumstances never to be investigated. It was discovered during the trial that Vincent was a firearms buff, who regularly visited shotgun ranges. He refused to confirm whether he held a shotgun license. Shotgun cartridges were a key feature of the contents of the JD Sports bag. The defence was unable to pursue any enquiries about his possession or use of a shotgun and his residence was not searched.
David and Goliath…
There exists a massive inequality of resources between the defendants and the prosecuting team. The prosecuting team has access to an entire range of resources of the state. Yet despite this glaring inequality of arms an avalanche of material damning to the prosecution case came to light through defence cross examination and requests for disclosure.
The question is what more must there inevitably be and could have come to light if an independent investigation had taken place and there was a level playing field.
It is easy to understand that juries can make a wrong decision if consciously or unconsciously they are struggling with the complexities posed by being jurors in a criminal trial in the circumstances in which this trial was conducted. Many of the historic cases of what came to be finally understood to be wrongful convictions were brought about in almost identical circumstances in difficult and challenging times.