Drug club boss loses appeal but walks free
The owner of the Dance Academy has failed in his bid to overturn his conviction for allowing Ecstasy to be sold at the club.
Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh says he has no idea what will happen to the empty, rundown building – which he still owns – following a failed attempt to clear his name.
Appearing dazed and angry after being held in London’s Royal Courts of Justice cells for four hours after the hearing, Bahmanzadeh said: “It’s a joke. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s so upsetting.
“Whether anybody believes this or not, I did more than a lot of the other club owners in the city to target drug dealers. I got involved physically and was congratulated by the police. I personally threw out people who have since been convicted of serious drug dealing.”
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Despite failing to overturn his conviction, Bahmanzadeh’s appeal against sentence was successful, reducing it from nine years to seven-and-a-half, effectively setting him free.
Prosecutor Duncan Penny made no representations at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, leaving Lord Justice Laws, accompanied by Mr Justice Griffith Williams and Mr Justice Males, to give his decision.
Lord Justice Laws accepted that fresh material showed how former head doorman Gareth Grimes was not a credible witness thanks to his own involvement in the drugs-related killing of Fernando Lopez in 2004 and his lies about being a Royal Marine. He said the court accepted his credibility was further undermined as it emerged that while working as a doorman at Bongogo’s he had tried to sell drugs to an off duty officer and boasted of his £5,000 a week earnings.
However, while it bolstered Bahmanzadeh’s claim he had fired Mr Grimes for ‘taxing’ dealers, and undermined Mr Grimes’s view that the club’s management did not appear ‘enthusiastic’ about searches, Lord Justice Laws said this did not damage the case and unduly influence the jury’s decision, adding Mr Grimes’s evidence was “by no means at the heart of the case”.
He said Mr Grimes’s claim to Tom Costelloe to being a former Royal Marine was merely to indicate his “physical presence” and would not have affected his credibility.
He reiterated there had been numerous meetings and correspondence with police about the sale and consumption of drugs at the premises prior to the drugs raid on May 7, 2006. In addition, he read out extracts of several Test Purchase Officers who repeatedly described the sale of Ecstasy in the club as “blatant”, “overt” and “obvious” during Operation Jonamac which ran from December 1, 2005 to the club’s closure.
He said there was “no doubt he [Bahmanzadeh] relied on others, but responsible, he was” and he “failed to take reasonable steps” to prevent the sale of Ecstasy.
He said it was also extremely doubtful if Bahmanzadeh would have been helped if the jury were told another man “was involved in drugs” and the evidence of Tony Pattinson, of the Harbour centre, who had said the drug taking in the club was “no worse than other clubs”, would not undermine the conviction.
Mr Justice Laws said trial judge Judge Francis Gilbert’s summing up, saying the music played at the venue was associated with the consumption of drugs, and the quantity of bottled water was not “unfair”, adding “it seems to us that the judge was entirely entitled to refer to them.”
He said the “essence of the Crown’s case is, in our view, unaffected.”
The appeal judges accepted that new sentencing guidelines would mean Bahmanzadeh’s nine-year term should be reduced to seven-and-a-half. As he had been jailed in July 2008, it would mean he had fully served half his sentence.
Outside court Bahmanzadeh said: “There’s still a lot of information which the courts and police have not disclosed. I don’t know what will happen next. I still own the building [Palace Theatre], but what happens next I honestly don’t know.
“We will have to see the implications of this on my licence. I’m going to think. Whatever I had thought [was going to happen] has turned out not right.”
RULING IS TESTAMENT TO HARD WORK OF OFFICERS
DETECTIVE Insp Dave Huggett, who led the investigation Operation Jonamac, said he was “delighted” with the outcome of the hearing.
He said the investigation was launched in 2005 because there was information that the sale and use of class A drugs within the premises was “widespread”.
The investigation led to the convictions of both Bahmanzadeh and Tom Costelloe for permitting the premises to be used for the sale and consumption of Ecstasy, and the pair sentenced to nine years and five years respectively.
Outside court he said: “The appeal court, having considered this new material were not persuaded that it would have had any impact on the original trial.
“During the investigation into the Dance Academy I led a small team of dedicated officers who had the highest standards of integrity.
“It’s testament to their professionalism and hard work that this appeal to the High Court failed.”
He added: “Since conviction he [Bahmanzadeh] has done all he can to wriggle out of this conviction with a number of failed attempts at appealing. It is a great shame he did not spend as much time and effort dealing with the issues of blatant drug dealing within his club as he has spent with these appeals.”
VENUE CONSIDERED TO BE A MODEL RUN CLUB
DEFENCE solicitor Jane Hickman claimed the appeal system itself was broken because so many Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) cases referred back to the Court of Appeal were rejected.
She said: “The CCRC are only supposed to refer back when it believes a conviction is likely to be quashed, but as so many of its referrals are turned down it’s become an irrelevance.
“The circumstances of this case are very frightening because of the mountain of evidence which indicates that something went very wrong in the investigation and trial process.”
She added: “For a number of years Mr Bahmanzadeh ran a venue which was considered a model run club by Plymouth City Council. He co-operated closely with the police and with the Harbour project to provide a safe environment. He has had huge public support with more than 5,000 members of the public signing a petition calling for his release.
“The police’s own figures showed he was the only club owner in Plymouth who regularly arrested and handed over dealers in his premises. But despite this he was selected as the only club owner in Plymouth to suffer this treatment.”
She added: “The Home Office guidance at the time said the safety of young clubbers depended on a degree of tolerance of drug use in a safe environment, so as not to drive it underground.”