Killer 'did not receive a fair trial'

A CONVICTED murderer who hired two hitmen to kill his business partner 15 years ago has been given fresh hope of freedom after judges ruled he did not receive a fair trial.

By Danielle Nuttall

A CONVICTED murderer who hired two hitmen to kill his business partner 15 years ago has been given fresh hope of freedom after judges ruled he did not receive a fair trial.

James Dowsett was jailed for life in March 1989 for the murder of Mildenhall father-of-three Chris Nugent who was blasted to death with a sawn-off shotgun as he worked alone in his office on December 15, 1987.

An appeal hearing against his conviction in 1994 failed but now the European Court of Human Rights has ruled his trial was unfair because the prosecution did not disclose all evidence to his defence team.

Last night Dowsett's solicitor Anita Bromley said her client was now waiting to hear from the Criminal Cases Review Commission on whether the case can go back to the Court of Appeal.

If a further appeal is granted and later proves successful, a re-trial could be ordered or Dowsett could have his conviction overturned.

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Ms Bromley, who is based in Nottingham, said: "We are hopeful that the case is referred back to the Court of Appeal as the trial was unfair.

"The police failed to disclose vital evidence and he (Dowsett) never had the opportunity to present his case and put forward his defence.

"We are still awaiting disclosure which the police never gave us in the original trial. There are boxes of files of evidence and references which we have never been provided access to."

The prosecution had claimed in the trial that Mildenhall financier Dowsett hired two contract killers, Stephen Gray and Gary Runham, from London, to kill his friend of 20 years for £20,000.

It was claimed Dowsett wanted his business partner killed because Mr Nugent knew too much about Dowsett's involvement in mortgage fraud.

Dowsett, 58, who was a partner with Mr Nugent at Walkers Mortgage and Insurance Brokers, which had offices in Mildenhall and Lakenheath, appealed against his conviction in March 1994.

During the hearing, it was claimed that the prosecution had withheld evidence from the defence during the trial at Norwich Crown Court.

However, the judges dismissed the case after concluding no miscarriage of justice had occurred.

Dowsett and his solicitors took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging he had been deprived of a fair trial.

The European Court of Human Rights has now upheld the application, ruling that Section 6 of the convention had been broken and that Dowsett did not receive a fair trial.

Part of the undisclosed evidence allegedly includes a letter written from Gray's team of solicitors to Suffolk Constabulary which Dowsett claims suggests Gray had been promised an "inducement" of a reduction in his sentence by prosecuting authorities if he testified against Dowsett.

In the original trial, Dowsett said he had only hired Runham and Gray to break one of Nugent's limbs in order to put him out of action for a few weeks while Dowsett effected his transfer to another branch of the firm.

He said he had paid Runham and Gray £7,500 for the assault, but after Gray had killed Nugent, Gray had blackmailed Dowsett into paying him more money.

The Government denied that any inducement was offered to Gray in return for him testifying.

Dowsett claimed the absence of this letter, and other information, at both the appeal hearing and trial, had denied him the right to a fair trial.

A judgement made by the European Court of Human Rights stated: "It is a fundamental aspect of the right to a fair trial that criminal proceedings, including the elements of such proceedings, which relate to procedure, should be adversarial and that there should be equality of arms between the prosecution and defence.

"The right to an adversarial trial means, in a criminal case, that both prosecution and defence must be given the opportunity to have knowledge of and comment on the observations filed and the evidence adduced by the other party."

The judgement concluded: "It follows that the applicant did not receive a fair trial and that there has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention."

The court said its finding that the convention had been "violated", was sufficient on its own and awarded 14,000 Euros to cover legal costs.

A spokesman for the Criminal Cases Review Commission said yesterday: "We are reviewing the case and have been for some time. I would expect a decision some time later this year.

"The question of the European Court material will be considered as part of the review of the case."

A spokesman for Suffolk police said: "Suffolk Constabulary is aware of the findings of the European Court of Human Rights regarding this case and is aware that an appeal was dismissed by the court of appeal back in 1994.

"The Constabulary understands that the case is now being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Comission and awaits any decision made by it on this matter."

Mr Nugent, 46, of Wingfield Road, Lakenheath, was working alone in his side-street office inside Mildenhall Mortgage Centre on December 15, 1987, when Gray burst in and blasted him twice in the head with a shotgun. He died instantly.

Gray left the scene of the crime in a car driven by Runham.

During his crown court trial, the court heard Dowsett, of Peterhouse Close, hired the gunmen and dragged his colleagues Leonard Payn, of Sedge Fen, near Lakenheath, and Roger Lewis, of King's Lynn, into the plot by deceiving them into handing over cash to finance the killing.

The pair, who were also accused of murder, maintained their innocence throughout the 37-day trial and were acquitted by a jury at Norwich Crown Court.

The seven men and five women jury took seven hours and 49 minutes to reach an unanimous guilty verdict for Dowsett.

Sentencing the defendant, judge Mr Justice Boreham said: "This is one of the most despicable offences it has been my misfortune to try.

"Any person with any decent instincts revolts at the callous, cynical machinations that led to the death of this unfortunate man."

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