THE MURDER plot re-trial of a crime boss and his two “loyal henchmen” has collapsed after prosecutors have taken the decision not to offer further evidence against them.
Convicted robbers Dennis Slade, Richard Pearman and Michael Baxter had been serving life sentences but could now be eligible for release from prison in less than two and a half years.
All three men - once described as “Premier League” criminals - were given life in 2010 after being found guilty of a series of robbery offences and conspiracy to murder following two high-profile trials in 2009 and 2010.
Both trials were held amid tight security involving armed police and cost the tax payer millions of pounds.
The murder conspiracy conviction was quashed in February this the year and and a re-trial was ordered to take place.
The jury at the re-trial at Sheffield Crown Court was directed to return not guilty verdicts against all three men after the prosecution discontinued the case just a week into the hearing, which had been expected to last around six weeks.
Slade, Pearman and Baxter are back in custody but will continue to serve significantly reduced minimum jail terms.
Prosecutor Paul Greaney, QC, told Mr Justice Globe: “The prosecution has an obligation to review all cases, indeed, the code for Crown prosecutors, which guides our decision making, provides ‘review is a continuing process and prosecutors must take account of any changes in circumstances that occurs as the case develops, including what becomes known of the defence case.’
“We have conducted such a review in this case and have concluded that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. Accordingly, we offer no further evidence.”
All three defendants were also cleared of criminal damage, arson and handling stolen goods.
The minimum terms the men must serve behind bars was reduced earlier this year as a result of the murder conspiracy conviction being quashed.
Slade’s minimum term was reduced from 19 years to ten years. Pearman and Baxter had their 17-year minimum sentences reduced to nine and eight and a half years respectively.
Slade, Pearman and Baxter were accused of plotting to kill rival Ralph Roberts by arranging for “assassins” to shoot him dead in the East End Park area of the city.
It was alleged Slade, Pearman and Baxter and their “confederates” used vehicles to carry out surveillance on their intended victim and possessed a shotgun and ammunition in order to carry out the shooting in February and March 2008.
But jurors were told the Defendants were likely to claim their activities over the period of the alleged conspiracy to murder might be explicable on the basis of plans for further robberies.
The gang’s crimes over a three -year period included the daring robbery of a Securitas van near Warrington in 2006 which netted them over £1m,
After the case, a joint statement by West Yorkshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service said: “
“Throughout the course of any criminal investigation, it is the responsibility of the Police and CPS to review the evidence available to them. In conjunction with CPS a decision has been taken in this case that there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”
JURORS at the re-trial had been told of changes to the way the prosecution intended to present the case over bugging evidence.
Unbeknown to Slade, Pearman and Baxter, officers from West Yorkshire Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency were investigating them around the time of the alleged murder plot.
The police operation had been going on for some time beforehand and investigators used surveillance techniques to monitor the location of one of their vehicles - an Audi RS6.
They also listened to and recorded conversations occurring within it.
Officers were able to establish that a shooting was planned.
The prosecution even claimed that on one occasion the alleged gunmen came very close to succeeding and were only prevented when the gun jammed at the critical moment.
All three men were tried and convicted for conspiracy to murder and other charges in 2009.
At that trial, the prosecution alleged that the voices heard within the Audi RS6 were Pearman, Baxter and, on occasion, Dennis Slade.
The defendants appealed their convictions. The convictions were quashed and a retrial ordered.
Mr Greaney explained: “At this trial the prosecution do not allege that the defendants were in the Audi RS6, but we argue that the circumstances nonetheless provide a compelling case that the defendants were acting in concert with those who were.”
At the opening of the retrial the court heard the three defendants were likely to concede during the hearing that they are serious organised criminals but were not involved in the alleged murder plot.
All three men were convicted in 2010 of four offences, including a cash-in-transit robbery worth more than £1 MILLION
Mr Greaney told the court: “In short, they will maintain that they are robbers, not killers.
He added: “The defendants will, we anticipate, invite you to consider whether their activities over the period of the conspiracy to murder might be explicable on the basis of plans for further robberies.”
The offences the defendants were convicted of in 2010 included:
-The robbery of a cash in transit van in Warrington, on March 8 2006, in which over £1,000,000 was stolen.
-The robbery of a Cross Gates Post Office in Leeds on December 12 2007. A heavy industrial vehicle was used to smash a hole in the wall. Masked men ran in through the hole and threatened women working inside. Security boxes were stolen but they turned out to be empty.
- A conspiracy to rob a cash delivery van at a Sainsbury’s in Colton Leeds. The plan was for the defendants to enter through the roof, weaken the wall to the room housing the cash point machines then carry out a robbery as hundreds of thousands of pounds were being loaded into the machines.
The jury was also told that a “second strand” to the defendants’ defence may wish to explore whether police have “trumped up” charges against them, jurors were told.
Mr Greaney continued: “The defence wish to explore whether the police knew all along that the defendants were not the men in the car and therefore knowingly permitted the case to be conducted first time around on a false basis.
“Were the police determined to secure a conviction against innocent men at all costs, the defence will invite you to consider?
“That is an allegation of the utmost seriousness.
“If it is correct, it strikes at the heart of criminal justice.
“We invite you to scrutinise it with care, but ultimately you will, we suggest, conclude that this was a clean investigation which has, moreover, identified men who are certainly guilty of the offence with which they stand charged in this trial.”