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A £3 million diamond fraud trial involving The Only Way is Essex star Lewis Bloor has collapsed after a “litany” of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failings in the disclosure of evidence.
Prosecutors claimed around 200 victims, many of whom were elderly, were conned after being convinced to buy coloured stones at a 600% mark up.
Bloor, 31, who joined the ITV2 reality programme for three years from 2013, was accused of being part of the alleged cold-calling investment fraud before his television career took off.
But the case collapsed on Friday some seven years after the investigation was launched in 2014 and four weeks into the Southwark Crown Court trial, for which dozens of alleged victims had provided statements or given live evidence.
Bloor, of Buckhurst Hill, Essex, was not in court on Friday, where he was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud between May 7 2013 and July 1 2014 by a jury at the direction of Judge Adam Hiddleston.
Joseph Jordan, 29, from Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, George Walters, 29, from Beckenham, in Kent, Max Potter, 25, of Enfield, Middlesex, Nathan Wilson, 28, of Brentwood, Essex, and Simon Akbari, 27, from Loughton, Essex, were also found not guilty of the charge.
The CPS abandoned the prosecution after admitting material that could have helped Bloor and his co-defendants or undermined the prosecution case had not been properly disclosed to defence lawyers.
Prosecutor David Durose QC said the material was “wrongly described”, should have been given to the defence teams and that “the inconsistencies were profound”.
“We have come to the conclusion that we cannot confirm to the court that the prosecution has discharged its disclosure duties in this case,” he said.
“We propose to offer no evidence against all of the defendants in this case.”
Narita Bahra QC, representing Potter, called for the CPS to conduct an inquiry into the case after what she described as “a litany of disclosure failings”.
She said the Metropolitan Police instructed expert witnesses employed by Dreweatts auctioneers and valuers, a company which had a contract with the force to auction jewellery and watches seized in raids and prosecutions.
“At the time of instruction the company was awaiting the outcome of their tender for the contract to be renewed,” said Ms Bahra.
“The prosecution initially did not disclose the offer of a conditional fee agreement by the experts to the police who were paying their fees.
“Those experts had already given evidence in another trial, in the middle of their contract with the Metropolitan police where their relationship with the police was not disclosed.”
‘Disclosure’ means providing the defence with copies or access to all the material that might undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence.
Investigators, prosecutors, defence teams and the courts all have important roles to play in getting disclosure processes right. pic.twitter.com/QQXToB2n75
— CPS (@CPSUK) October 13, 2021
Last week, Mr Durose said he would not call Tessa Parry and James Nicholson, from Dreweatts, who were instructed to give expert evidence about how much the diamonds were worth.
He said the CPS accepted “that the experts were not instructed in a way consistent with the criminal procedure rules”, adding: “The timing of the instruction was unfortunate given the ongoing tender process.
“While we do not consider the two witnesses are at fault or unreliable it would be disproportionate to delay the trial to litigate these matters.”
Ms Bahra compared the case to a multimillion-pound carbon credit and diamond fraud trial which collapsed when the expert witness Andrew Ager was found to be unqualified, calling into question more than 20 other trials he was involved in.
It is the latest high-profile failure of the CPS to properly hand over material in the disclosure process, which came under sharp focus from late 2017 after the collapsed trial of then 22-year-old Liam Allan, who was accused of rape.
His acquittal raised the profile of a string of similar cases in which charges were dropped when crucial evidence emerged at the last minute.
The revelations prompted a review of every live rape and serious sexual assault prosecution in England and Wales, a review of disclosure by the Attorney General and a raft of new measures including a National Disclosure Improvement Plan.
On Friday, the Times reported the collapse of a £34 million money laundering trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court as the CPS admitted “a failure to follow reasonable lines of inquiry to ensure a fair trial”.
Judge Charles Falk refused a CPS application to adjourn the case, describing the disclosure failures as “serious and catastrophic”, according to the newspaper.
And the latest failings come during “National Disclosure Week”, as the CPS Twitter account promotes “a week of themed presentations, Q&As and workshops to share best practice on disclosure”.
A CPS spokesman said of the diamond trial: “We have a duty to keep cases under continuous review.
“With this specific case, earlier this week the prosecution were made aware of material that was disclosable but had not been shared previously with the defence.
“It was disclosed to the defence immediately, and following urgent consideration of its impact, we have now decided to stop the case against these individuals.
“As an organisation we remain committed to working with investigators, defence teams and courts to ensure we get disclosure right.”