Providing our clients with legal defence
in the UK for over four decades
To be charged with conspiracy is always serious, and many defendants are aware of this. However, many people do not understand what ‘Conspiracy’ really means. Conspiracy can be involved in many different types of cases, from theft to murder. Cases involving conspiracy often involve group planning of crimes before they happen, and therefore often involve so called ‘Organised Crime’.
We have represented individuals accused of being professional criminals, and many of these have been charged with conspiracy. In a conspiracy case, a member of a gang or group who is only a ‘bit-player’ can end up drawn into a serious trial with professional criminals, and a long custodial sentence can result.
We have represented clients for dozens of offences involving conspiracy over the last four decades, and continue to do so. We have included a case study of a real case we defended and a brief guide to conspiracy and the issues often encountered in cases involving allegations of organised crime.
Our client was Alan Lord, the alleged ringleader of the Strangeways Riot in April 1990. He had been charged along with several other defendants of conspiracy to murder an inmate during the prisoners' uprising, which led to the loudest calls for prison reform in a hundred years.
At the time, many people were of the opinion that this was a show trial, botched together to punish the Strangeways Riot Ringleader.
The trial lasted 5 months, and was regularly reported in all of the National Press and TV News Channels. The case was so large and complex that it was split into two separate trials. We represented one defendant in each trial.
Our client was accused with 4 other people of conspiracy to murder a man in an alleged drugs-related assassination attempt, involving a semi-automatic handgun.
Police forensic examination had shown that our client’s clothing had traces of gunpowder residue on it. Part of that residue was present on the inside of his trousers, indicating that a gun had been present there after having been fired.
We attacked the prosecution case on the basis that the alleged victims of this ‘assassination attempt’ were known drug dealers, and that this incident was effectively part of a turf war. There was evidence that our client was intimidated by both sides, and that he could have been present merely as a link between the groups.
Conspiracy effectively means being involved in an offence, or the planning of an offence in a group of two or more people. Although ‘Conspiracy’ is often referred to as an offence that someone can be charged with, it is not actually an offence at all, but a version of the offence alleged.
If someone plans a bank robbery with other people, even if they do not complete or start the robbery itself, then they could be guilty of conspiracy to commit the offence of robbery.
To make out conspiracy, the prosecution must show that there are two ingredients:
If the planners do not know that the offence is impossible in the circumstances (because, for example, the bank has closed down), then they can still be convicted of conspiracy.
Two people cannot be guilty of conspiracy if the only other person in the plan is the first person’s wife, husband or partner, or if they are a child, or an intended victim of the offence.
The agreement to commit the offence must be real and the major details must be decided for conspiracy to be made out.
The defendants must know exactly what the facts relating to the planned crime are, so a defendant who knows that he’s in a criminal gang but doesn’t know the major details of the criminal offence that the gang is planning cannot be found guilty of conspiracy.
Every organised and well run operation requires planning and coordination of workers, and the same is the case for organised criminal activity. It is no surprise that cases involving alleged organised crime, whether they are gun running, drug importation, or fake passport production are often charged as conspiracy to commit the offence alleged.
The role of the informant is often particularly important in cases involving organised crime (see Strategy and Evidence below).
Cases involving organised crime often involve police informants, and a good defence strategy will often include battling with the prosecution over the disclosure of the identities of sources of informants. Occasionally in cases involving prosecution witnesses who the wish to remain anonymous, the prosecution will even offer no evidence, dropping charges to protect the witness.
Knowledge of police practice is an essential ingredient in the preparation of any serious criminal case. It is of particular importance in cases involving long and detailed police investigations, and surveillance evidence.
It is not only a legal exercise, but it can often also be a battle of wits. Analysing the prosecution behaviour during the early stage of proceedings can give an indication of where the ongoing police inquiries are going, and what can be expected at trial.
The usual rules relating to defence analysis of forensic evidence, including mobile phone evidence and surveillance evidence apply especially for cases involving allegations of organised crime.
Often mobile phone evidence (see Robbery / Armed Robbery section for more details on this) can be of crucial importance to a prosecution case which tries to link several defendants together. But even mobile phone evidence cannot often prove the content of phonecalls, only the content of texts and ‘traffic’ between different numbers – i.e. length of call and who the call was to.
As mentioned above, for conspiracy to exist, the prosecution must show that all the parties knew the facts of any planned offence. Mobile phone evidence showing people talking to each other cannot show this on its own.
Any offences involving conspiracy are treated more seriously than similar offences carried out by just one person. On that basis, it is always advisable to pick a lawyer with experience of serious criminal cases if you are charged with conspiracy. If this affects you or a member of your family, we are happy to speak to you about your case.
If you would like to speak to one of our criminal solicitors regarding organised crime, please contact us on freephone 0808 155 4870 and ask to speak to a criminal defence lawyer in our London, Manchester, Salford or Birmingham offices.
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