Woman convicted of hoarding £22k cash linked to cannabis haul sees verdict overturned
A woman found guilty of concealing criminal property linked to a £500,000 cannabis seizure has won her appeal against conviction.
The verdict against Heather Ramsey was held to be unsafe based on a lack of clarity in evidence that most of a £22,000 cash haul represented proceeds of crime.
Senior judges in Belfast also identified issues in the charge to the jury at her trial.
Prosecutors must now indicate if they are to seek a retrial for Ramsey, who had been given a suspended sentence.
At Newry Crown Court in 2013, she had been convicted of concealing criminal property between May and September 2009.
The charge related to the sum of £22,000 or thereabouts.
Criminal proceedings were brought against her as part of a wider case involving her 47-year-old partner, Edward Bamber, and two other men.
In November 2009 police stopped Bamber, formerly of Grange Avenue in Ballymena, in a car with £500,000 worth of cannabis, the Court of Appeal heard.
He and one of the other men had brought the consignment across the border from Co Monaghan.
Bamber was said to have admitted operating as a drugs courier between Belfast, Newry, Dublin and the continent.
Police searches of another house linked to Ramsey in Randalstown led to the recovery of £22,000.
Bamber later pleaded guilty to a number of drugs offences and concealing the cash as criminal property.
He received a six-year jail sentence, including nine months for concealment of the money.
At the trial of Ramsey, whose age and address were not disclosed, the judge ruled that Bamber's plea was relevant and admissible, despite defence claims it was unduly prejudicial.
Ramsey's lawyers appealed the conviction, arguing that her partner's guilty plea was wrongly put before the jury.
They also contended that jurors were not adequately directed on the lack of weight and probative value in that piece of evidence.
It was argued that the plea should not have been introduced unless it could be shown that at least £17,500 of the cash represented the proceeds of criminal property.
Ruling on the appeal yesterday, Lord Justice Weatherup held that the overall terms of the charge to the jury were not consistent or adequate in conveying a question mark over the probative value of the Bamber plea.
"The trial judge's direction in effect invited the jury to disregard the possibility of the limited effect of the Bamber plea on the prosecution undertaking in the appellant's case," said the judge.
Lord Justice Weatherup, sitting with Lord Justices Gillen and Weir, also stated: "There is a distinct lack of clarity about the state of the evidence that £17,500 of the funds represented the proceeds of criminal conduct.
"The defence case on legitimate savings was not articulated to the jury."
With unease over the guilty verdict, he confirmed: "We conclude that the verdict is unsafe.
"In the circumstances the conviction is quashed."