Woman’s drugs conviction quashed over ‘unfair’ police questioning

A woman found guilty of being concerned in the supplying of heroin and speed after the drugs were found during a police search of her home has had her conviction quashed following an appeal.

The Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary ruled that the sheriff erred in refusing a preliminary challenge to the admissibility of the evidence recovered because the police failed to caution the appellant before questioning her.

Lord Menzies, Lord Malcolm and Lord Turnbull heard that the appellant Veronica Logan was convicted in September 2019 appellant was convicted on three charges of being concerned in the supplying of the controlled drugs Etizolam, Diamorphine and Amphetamine following a trial at Falkirk Sheriff Court.

The evidence led against the appellant comprised the recovery of quantities of these drugs with a minimum value of around £32,000 at her flat at 22 Douglas Street Bannockburn on 4 February 2019.

However, prior to her trial the appellant raised a preliminary issue under section 71(2) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 objecting to the admissibility of the evidence. 

The court was told that on 27 January 2019 an anonymous call was made to Police Scotland by a male caller, who reported that he had been called by a female named Veronica 20 or 22 Douglas Street, Bannockburn asking for his help, stating that she had been forced to house £250,000 worth of valium in her house.

Attempts by officers to test the veracity of the information conveyed by the anonymous caller were unsuccessful and senior officers concluded that the source of information was insufficiently reliable to request the procurator fiscal to seek a search warrant.

In these circumstances two uniformed officers came to be tasked to visit the accused to enquire after her welfare and if she was being coerced into criminality against her will.

The evidence accepted by the sheriff was that after the two police officers were invited to join the appellant in her bedroom, where one officer told her that they were there to check on her welfare as they had received information that she was being coerced into holdings drugs against her will.

She was asked whether by the other officer she was being coerced into storing drugs, to which she replied: “That’s not the case”.

The officer then said: “We are not here to get you into trouble, are you being coerced into doing anything, will you be honest with us so we can help you?”

The appellant didn’t answer but became visibly upset, following which the officer said: “I’m getting the impression you want to tell us something, are you being coerced into storing drugs?”

At this stage the appellant said she had two bags while pulling the cover off two bags on the floor and lifting them up onto the bed, and the officers could see that they contained white tablets.

At that point the appellant was cautioned, said nothing incriminating, was arrested and taken to Falkirk Police Station.

Thereafter the officers obtained a search warrant and the formal recovery of the items took place.

At the trial, the only evidence led was in the form of a joint minute of agreement which set out that the various controlled drugs were recovered from the appellant’s property in the course of a search carried out under warrant on 4 February 2019 in her presence. 

The joint minute having been read, the sheriff directed the jury that they were required to find the accused guilty, which they duly did.  

The appellant appealed, arguing that the evidence as to the comments made by the appellant and the evidence recovered as a result of what she said was “inadmissible” and the sheriff “erred” in refusing to uphold the preliminary issue minute.

It was submitted that the evidence which the sheriff accepted made it plain that the appellant was suspected of being involved in criminal activity by the police prior to their arrival at her home, meaning she ought to have been cautioned before being questioned at all. 

Furthermore, it was submitted that the officers “deliberately misled” the appellant as to the purpose of their questions, having contended that they were there to help her and not to get her into trouble, when the reality was that when she confirmed their suspicions she was immediately arrested.

In the whole circumstances it was argued the evidence ought not to have been admitted as it was obtained in circumstances which were “unfair” to the appellant.

Allowing the appeal, the judges ruled that the sheriff “erred” in his assessment of whether or not the evidence objected to was admissible.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lord Turnbull said: “In our opinion, the combination of a failure to caution the appellant at any stage and the encouragement given to her to respond upon the premise that the police officers would provide her with help, resulted in unfairness such as ought to have led to the objection being upheld. The appeal shall be allowed and the appellant’s conviction quashed.”

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