Handcuffed in bed (by the police)
[Note: Names, locations and certain other details in this post have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!]
By all appearances the Whinsors were an ordinary family, living with their two school age children in a house in Bristol which they rented from the council. Phil was a taxi driver and Liz had recently taken on part time work behind a bar evenings and weekends.
But appearances changed dramatically before dawn one chilly November morning when police 'effected a forcible entry' to their home (breaking down the door) at 6:00 a.m., rushed up the stairs and arrested and handcuffed them both - their hands behind their backs - while they were still in bed.
The police action was part of 'Operation Hokum'. One of a series of raids that morning on suspected drug dealers in the locality. The police were acting on intelligence and their suspicions were well founded. The police asked Liz and Phil if there were any drugs on the premises. Phil immediately answered, "Yes, in the bag on top of the wardrobe". Sure enough in the bag was 1Kg of 'skunk' cannabis. Inside the same wardrobe the police found a large holdall. Unzipping the holdall PC Floorless could see at once that it contained a large amount of cash. He called for backup - specifically a video camera operator. He was not going to touch that cash without having everything recorded on film.
When the video officer arrived the holdall was emptied onto the bed. It contained a little over £50,000 in notes and Liz's passport.
The police searched the rest of the house and the family cars and seized further small amounts of drugs (including a small amount of cocaine), a few hundred pounds of further cash, several mobile phones, some bank statements and other items.
Phil and Liz were detained for questioning at the local police station. Phil admitted possession of the cannabis which he intended to sell and possession of the cash in the holdall. He said he had been dealing in drugs for a short while unknown to his wife and family. Liz went "no comment" in police interview on the advice of her solicitor. Later that day both were released on police bail.
The mobile phones were sent for forensic examination. Revealing text messages (for example, "u got 1g 4 me") were found.
Police also undertook a financial investigation and obtained Phil and Liz's (and the children's) bank statements for past years - in some cases going back to 2003. They also obtained Phil's tax returns (Liz had not submitted any).
Phil and Liz had each had bank accounts in their own names. There were no joint accounts.
The police formed the view that the deposits in Phil and Liz's bank accounts were inconsistent with their legitimate income. Added to which, during the previous Summer Liz had got a second-hand Nissan Micra. Enquiries revealed that this had been bought from a car dealer for £5,000 paid in cash.
Liz's passport showed three trips to Cyprus over the previous year. On each occasion she had stayed for 2 / 3 weeks.
HMRC records also showed that the family had been in receipt of Tax Credits for several years.
At the conclusion of the police investigations Phil and Liz were both charged with (i) possession of controlled drugs with intent to supply, (ii) possession of the cash in the holdall (as criminal property), (iii) conversion of criminal property (the cash banked in their individual bank accounts since 2003), and - in respect of Liz only (iv) conversion of criminal property by the purchase of the Micra.
Phil and Liz instructed different firms of solicitors. Phil pleaded guilty to possession of the cannabis and the money in the holdall and not guilty to conversion of criminal property. Liz pleaded not guilty to all four charges which she faced.
I was instructed by the solicitors acting for Liz to consider whether the examination of her bank accounts and car purchase supported the money laundering allegations against her.
Liz had gone "no comment" in police interview on legal advice. But she now told her lawyers that her husband dealt with the family finances. He had bought her the car as a gift and he had paid for it and arranged for it to be registered in her name. He had also paid the insurance for it (by a direct debit from his bank account). She knew nothing about the existence of the drugs or the cash in her bedroom, nor of any drug dealing by her husband. Her father was ill in Cyprus and she had been going there to simply visit him.
My examination of her bank accounts showed that many of the deposits referred to by the police were not cash deposits but bank transfers. The amount of cash deposited over the years was not that great (well into five figures, but over a period of six years). Given the cash nature of her husband's self-employment the values and patterns of these cash deposits did not appear manifestly inconsistent with the family's apparent legitimate lifestyle. There seemed to be no evidence to indicate that Liz knew, or even suspected, that her husband was engaged in crime. I submitted my report to my instructing solicitors.
If it were to be accepted that Liz was truly unaware of the drugs and cash in the bedroom and had no knowledge or suspicion of Phil's criminal activities then she would not be guilty of any of the charges which she faced.
On the day Phil and Liz's case came to the Crown Court, counsel for the prosecution met with counsel for Phil and for Liz outside the courtroom shortly before the case was due to start. The upshot was that Phil agreed to change his plea to guilty to the money laundering count with which he had been charged and to 'carry the can' for the car purchase and the cash through Liz's bank accounts as well. In turn the prosecution dropped all the charges against Liz. There would now be no need for a jury trial.
Phil will be sentenced at a later date and no doubt will be subject to confiscation proceedings as well. Liz emerged from court with no stain on her character.