A six-week racing-related fraud case has collapsed after a judge ruled material held by the police and the British Horseracing Authority had not been properly disclosed to the defence. The case arose out of a complaint by the trainer Tony Carroll that he had been defrauded by a former employee, James Hamer, but the defence contended that all relevant cash movements had been carried out at Carroll’s direction.
As the case progressed at Hereford crown court, there was mounting concern about disclosure of evidence, particularly in relation to material compiled by the BHA that reflected on the credibility of prosecution witnesses. A single piece of BHA material was originally disclosed but more was produced in several stages during the hearing. According to a defence account of proceedings, matters came to a head when prosecution barristers found new material on the investigating officer’s laptop and sought time to review it.
Judge Cartwright’s patience gave out at that point and he directed not guilty verdicts be returned in relation to some charges and ordered that the remaining counts be stayed. “In this case the administration of justice has been undermined,” he said. “Repeated assurances that the disclosure process had been adhered to were found to be seriously wanting.”
The case revolved around an allegation by Carroll that Hamer had stolen from him and owners in his yard and that there was no other explanation for money relating to his business having passed through Hamer’s own bank accounts.
Forensic accounting evidence was produced which the defence said showed that the Hamer accounts had been used for the benefit of Carroll’s business, Mill House Racing, and that substantial parts of that business were being run through accounts of which Carroll had earlier denied all knowledge. When confronted in court by this evidence, Carroll offered no explanation.
Carroll did not respond to repeated requests for comment by the Guardian. Meanwhile the 31-year-old Hamer expressed “massive” relief at the end of a three-year process, in which he faced 23 charges relating to a total of £200,000 and was told he was at risk of a jail sentence of up to 10 years. His father had been charged alongside him, the result of one of the bank accounts being held in his name, but he was exonerated.
Hamer was once hailed as Britain’s youngest bloodstock agent but said he would not be seeking a future in horse racing. “Having seen what I’ve seen, no chance,” he said. “That’s it for me. I’m going to find a proper career, a proper industry where this type of thing doesn’t happen.”
Hamer’s solicitor, Gary Lesin-Davis, said: “Between the police and the BHA, there were disclosure failures. There was a tonne of material that wasn’t forthcoming. And that would have been material directly relevant to the credibility of prosecution witnesses in this case.”
Both West Mercia police and the BHA said they would conduct full reviews of what had happened and the BHA denied that blame for the disclosure problems should be directed at them. A BHA statement said: “This investigation was conducted by the West Mercia police force and the BHA employee’s role in the investigation was under their direction. The BHA takes issues of disclosure very seriously.”
A statement from West Mercia police said: “This was a complex investigation which included a requirement to source information from a number of different organisations, which impacted on the time taken to compile the evidence. It should be noted that the officer who led the case is commended in the Judge’s ruling for their integrity throughout the process.”