Five months' jail with no evidence

A LISMORE woman has spent five months in jail facing serious drug charges with the Crown dropping them at the last minute because it had no evidence.

The Crown must now pay the woman’s legal fees, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, and will likely face a compensation claim for her time in custody.

Since her arrest in November 2008, Tracey Leete, 50, through lawyer James Fuggle, strongly denied any guilt to two Crown charges of supplying commercial quantities of heroin and amphetamine as part of a drug syndicate.

Mr Fuggle got his client released after five months’ incarceration last year while she waited on a committal hearing to defend the matters.

In Lismore Local Court on Thursday, Mr Fuggle told Magistrate Robyn Denes that after reading through 5000 pages of Crown evidence it became very clear to him last year there was ‘no evidence’ to form any basis on which to have charged his client.

He contacted the Crown ‘one year ago’ for any factual evidence against Leete, but none was forthcoming.

“Nowhere in the Crown brief is there any actual evidence of her participating in the supply or on-selling of drugs she is alleged to be ordering,” Mr Fuggle said.

Citing legislation in the Criminal Procedure Act, Mr Fuggle said the Prosecution unreasonably failed to investigate any relevant material that suggested the accused person may not be guilty of the charges.

The Crown in reply said it was not until March that it became aware ‘a statement it was relying on’ would not be forthcoming.

Mr Fuggle said his client pleaded guilty only to a charge of possession of heroin (1.93 grams).

He said Leete had a sad history of drug abuse and if there had been a blessing ‘in all this sad mess’ it was that she was now on a methadone program.

Ms Denes convicted Leete of the heroin possession with no other penalty.

“This is a lady who has been in custody. If she had not been released until today it would have been 18 months that could not have been given back to her,” Ms Denes said.

Ms Denes ordered the Crown pay Leete’s legal costs, with the amount to be determined.

Ms Denes said it was clear Leete became caught up in the police prosecution of a major drug syndicate with 15 offenders in what was clearly a complex matter, with the Crown (wrongly) alleging Leete to be part of that syndicate. She said the serious charges meant there had been a presumption against bail with Leete held in custody.

“People can always be charged later. You don’t charge them first and hope that the evidence comes to light,” Ms Denes said.

Outside the court, Ms Leete said she was happy the ordeal was now over. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to comment.

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