Saturday, December 09, 2006
THC4MS Trial - Day 2
HC4MS, Day Two
It was good to meet Hvy Fuel, Bartman and Rex Mundi @ the court, on what was a pretty dull day's play. Before proceedings began, the judge said that one of the jury had stated that his daughter has MS, but counsel decided that that was no reason for that jury member to be disqualified.
Mr Grout-Smith, for the Crown, opened by describing how 33 packets containing cannabis chocolate had been apprehended in the sorting office @ Carlisle on January 25th, 2005. Each contained a 150g bar of chocolate containing approximately 2% cannabis, as stated on the label and confirmed by forensic analysis. One packet contained a cheque for £10 made out to THC4MS with a Post It note attached which explained that THC4MS was unable to open a bank account, so the cheque could not be cashed, but blank cheques, postal orders and stamps were all useful. As a consequence, Mark and Lezley Gibsons' home in Alston was visited by police on the morning of February 8th.
When Marcus Davies' home in Huntingdon was visited by police, some five months later on 18th June, evidence of three bank accounts in the name of his partner was discovered, along with a list of some 460 addresses of THC4MS clients. (Sadly, the details of the botched swoop on Marcus home were omitted as, comically, the cops first visited one of his clients - who owned the PO Box used by THC4MS - and then they raided his partner's mother's house, next door, before finally getting the right address on the third attempt.) Obviously, the time between the Gibson's arrest and the police visit to Marcus Davies' (not to mention the catalogue of errors before they reached the right house) gave Marcus ample time to lose any incriminating evidence, if there was any. As it goes, someone is driving up from Cambrigeshire with the relevant documents.
Grout-Smith repeated that, "the Crown does not suggest that this (making money) was their (the defendants') primary motivation." Nevertheless, there is an issue regarding finances and the omission of several pages in the bundle of evidence that Marcus Davies' barrister, also a Mr Davies, received from his original solicitor, who was sacked. Several pages are missing and that caused one of several delays today, while the lawyers went into a huddle. The relevant pages will be provided for tomorrow's session, when there will be further discussion of THC4MS finances.
The indictment against the Gibsons and Marcus Davies (which is in two parts because of the reclassification of cannabis that came into effect on 28th January, 2004) alleges that they conspired to supply cannabis over the period from January 1, 2004 to February 8th, 2005 (when the Gibsons were swooped).
Grout-Smith conceded that Lezley and Mark made no secret of what they were doing to police and claimed to have distributed 22,000 bars of cannabis chocolate to some 1,200 people (although Mark actually estimated the figure to be 33,000 and Marcus now reckons that THC4MS has sent about 38,000 bars to some 2,000 MS sufferers over the past six years). A 'conspiracy' is simply an agreement to do something that entails criminal activity. In this case, the defendants went further than just plotting, but had supplied a vast amount of cannabis over a period of years. They had not been charged with supplying cannabis because it would be 'too cumbersome' to list numerous individual counts of supply and so the charge of conspiracy had been used instead.
Grout-Smith told the jury that the defendants only supplied cannabis chocolate to people who provided evidence of their diagnosis of MS, and that they were not the "usual type of drug dealers". There's no doubt, he said, that they beleived they were alleviating pain. However, what they did is illegal. The law is occasionaly reviewed (not!) and there's an ongoing lively debate among doctors about the medicinal value of cannabis. However, he said, this court is not the appropriate forum in which to resolve such arguments. "The evidence will show that the defendants were aware of an element of risk in what they were doing and were hoping the authorities would turn a blind eye, but the abuse of the Royal Mail could not be ignored."
The Crown's first witness, Detective Chief Inspector Whitehead had been the Crime Manager of the North Cumbria region in 2005, but he's now moved on. He described the surveillance operation that ran from August to November, 2002 (not to be confused with any other surveillance operations). Cross examining for Mark, Mr Hoare asked Whitehead about whose decision it was to adandon Operation Marathon (or whatever the surveillance operation was codenamed). In fact it was Brian Horn, Chief Superintendent of North Cumbria Police at the time. Where is Mr Horn now? Not here, that's where.
On September 4th, 2002, the police had obtained a warrant and were all keyed up to come crashing in on the cannabis chocolate factory they had very good reason to believe existed at the Gibsons' premises in Alston. They'd acquired this knowledge through assiduous surveillance, but also because the Gibsons had told the world in several articles in the press, non of which DCI Whitehead could remember having caught when cross examined by Mr Davies for Mr Davies. But the planned swoop on the cannabis chocolate factory didn't happen when the strike force was stood down at the eleventh hour for 'operational reasons!'
Reviewing the situation in November 2002, the Super decided it was wasn't worth carrying on with the operation against THC4MS and tasked DCI Whithead with having a word with Mark Gibson, which he did on 10.12.02. This meeting was recorded and wasn't lost in the famous flood. Mark's POV, as stated at that meeting, was (1) that he intended to carry on making and distributing cannabis chocolate to MS suffers until such a time as a viable alternative medicine was made available and (2) not a court in the land would convict him for it because THC4MS acted through medical necessity, which was a defence proven in the British courts by cases including one against Lezley in 1999, when she was found Not Guilty of possessing cannabis, because it was medicinal.
Andrew Ford, for Lezley, teazed this out in his cross examination, asking, if Mr Horn had been concerned that the police should not be seen to be 'oppressive'? "No!" said Whitehead. "Lezley Gibson had already been prosecuted and found Not Guilty" said Mr Ford, asking if Mr Whitehead didn't agree that was "a barometer of local feeling"? DCI Whitehead agreed that it was. However, he thought his superior's decision was for strategic and resource reasons. He told Mark that what he was doing was not a high police priority. But priorities can change and the police can't ignore complaints...
The way it was at the back end of 2002 was that THC4MS could continue doing what they did so long as they kept within certain parameters, which they did for another two years, until January 25th, 2005, when something happened. Next on the stand came Alison Heather Lawson, a packet stamper at Junction Street sorting office in Carlisle, to tell exactly what. She originally said in her statement that she went to stamp this jiffy bag and it fell open, but on the stand she described the procedure whereby four sorters stamp 300 pieces of mail every 15 minutes and said that, actually, she'd already stamped the package and flung it into the appropriate sorting bin, when the contents fell out because it had not been sealed. The strip of tape covering the sticky strip that seals the jiffy bag had not been removed and the package had not been sealed. Where was this particular unsealed jiffy bag and its contents? Not in evidence in court today, that's where.
What was shown in court was an empty jiffy bag that had been sealed with seloptape, as were all the other 32 packages containing cannabis chocolate that were found at the sorting office that night (Mark Gibson told police one had been missed; he'd posted 34). Not only were these other packages sealed by their sticky flaps, but they were double sealed with selotape, because that is the way that THC4MS regularly sent out at least a hundred bars a week, not one of which had ever fallen open at the sorting office before. Of course Ms Lawson didn't open the package hereself, because that would be more than her job's worth and she's been in the job 13 years. She insisted that this jiffy bag had not been sealed and the contents fell out, clearly marked 'cannabis chocolate' - with a URL and a Box no. - and she "wasn't sure it was something that should be sent through the post". So, instead of sticking it back in the packet and sending it on its way, she called her line manager, David Robert Richardson, who was next up.
Mr Richardson told the court how he'd rounded up 33 similar packts containing cannabis chocolate and had opened non of them, because only the Police and Customs are allowed to do that, but he used a scanning machine to verify their contents.
DC Mark Johnson's evidence spanned the lunch break. He's a member of the Hi-Tech Crime Unit at Penrith, a specialist in the interrogation of seized computers and internet-related crime. His testimony gave a few comic opportunites for judicial incomprehension (URL? DNS? WTF?) but these were played with a straight bat by His Honour. DC Johnson copied the THC4MS web site onto a disc and printed out every page in full colour. The cross examination - particularly Mr Davies for Mr Davies - took him through the content of most if not all of those pages on which the THC4MS mission statment and conditions of service were repeated. The jury was told again and again that THC4MS provide cannabis chocolate exclusively to bona fide multiple sclerosis patients. It does say on the web site that THC4MS needs to cover its costs and a donation of £5 per bar was recommended, but it was not obligatory. There was no secrecy and no charge.
After the police man stood down, the Crown read a witness statement from Penelope Diane Wendell who trades as Penny Thornton, astrologer and business associate of Marcus Davies, who runs her web site, astrolutely-dot-com. Penny pays the rent on a POBox which, without her knowledge, Marcus was also using to collect mail for THC4MS. After that came a load of Admissions (evidence that's not disputed). Everything seized from the mail and from the swoops on Alston and Huntingdon was itemised and the forensic evidence, too. The jury was told that each bar of Cannabiz chocolate was intended to weigh 150g (actually 139-170g) and contain 3.5g (an eighth!) of powdered cannabis. Each bar was divided into 24 sqaures and the recommended dose was two or three squares of chocolate per day, so that a bar would last an MS sufferer 8-12 days (and might be the only medicine they needed).
And so we came to the end of a tedious day with the rain drizzling down outside in a glowering sky split by a searchlight full moon! I couldn't post @ Bar Solo last night, because I left it a little too late and the place was packed with boozers baying at the moon. Penny Thornton has told Marcus that Friday is going to be a highly significant day in his life,astrologically, and the way things are going it does look like that's going to be his day to give evidence.
The stuff about Marcus' bank accounts was a surprising because it wasn't included in theinformation that his barrister received when briefed, so this morning was the first he'd heard of it. Anyway, hopefully that should be sorted out in the first hour or so on day 3, when the prosecution case will be concluded and Mark Gibson will be called as the first witness for the defence.
The court won't be sitting on Thursay, but things do appear to be moving apace. It hardly seems like that the trial will be wound up on a Friday afternoon because of the temptation for the jury to rush its decision, so everyone can go down the metaphorical pub. So the Defence case will probably be concluded on Monday.
http://www.sue-green.com/cannablog/2006 ... day-2.html
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