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I was jailed for a suitcase of drugs I'd never seen before; Cleared grandad sues after 4yr hell.

AN innocent grandfather spent 137 days in prison after being wrongly convicted of drug smuggling.

Norman Hall has suffered four years of hell after being stopped by Customs officers following a weekend trip to Amsterdam. They alleged he had a suitcase containing pounds 40,000 of cannabis.

Despite knowing nothing about the case, Mr Hall was convicted and sentenced to 18 months. Now, after being cleared, he is suing Customs officials.

He said: "I was in jail with the scum of the earth. It's like being thrown in a cesspool. I was 56 years of age and had never been in trouble. You are in with drug pushers, hardened criminals, the lot."

Mr Hall's nightmare began when he was stopped at Dover. The luggage on his coach had been searched by sniffer dogs who found nothing.

The former lorry driver and grandad of eight was then told his baggage had to be checked.

He picked up his holdall and two bags of duty-frees.

But a Customs officer grabbed a suitcase which he claimed belonged to Mr Hall. It contained 11.5 kilos of cannabis.

The inexperienced traveller, who had no previous convictions, was told video film showed him carrying the drugs. But the footage later revealed it was the Customs officer who carried the case.

There was no forensic proof to link Mr Hall to the cannabis.

His bank accounts showed no evidence of drugs cash. He had no keys for the case, which was padlocked, and was described in court as having a "previously unblemished character".

But he spent almost five months behind bars before clearing his name. Now the dad-of-three, from Shenfield, Essex, wants more than pounds 100,000 damages.

Mr Hall was arrested in September 1994 after visiting Amsterdam following the death of his mother, Anne. It was her favourite city and he wanted to see it.

He was travelling alone while his wife looked after their DIY horse livery business .

He recalled: "The Customs officer said `Can you identify your bags?'

"I said `Yes, the holdall and two duty-free bags.' He said: `What about the suitcase?' and I told him it wasn't mine. But he wouldn't have it."

The officer - named in court documents as Mark Wright - said he picked the case up because he thought Mr Hall had left it behind.

The grandad was questioned for almost four hours before he was allowed a solicitor.

He said: "They warned they had me on video. I knew that couldn't be true. But I can see why people confess to something they haven't done."

Mr Hall spent 12 months waiting for the case to come to court.

But worse was to follow. He was convicted and jailed.

The prosecution rested on the evidence of Mr Wright.

But Judge Giles Rook told the jury : "Operators look for couriers who are likely to exercise the sympathy of courts. It may be students, may be the sick, it may be the elderly.

"The accused is a person of hitherto unblemished character ... but there are those who are more aged and get away with it sometimes." At Mr Hall's appeal in 1996, the judge was blasted for "misdirection".

Mr Hall's claim for wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment states evidence was distorted or fabricated and crucial video footage withheld.

He said: "People read about this and assume you are guilty - it stays with you and your family for life."

Appeal judges quashed Mr Hall's conviction, concluding "none of the photographs showed Mr Hall carrying the case.

"There was not a shred of independent evidence that corroborated or supported the version of events spoken of by Mr Wright."

Mr Hall's defence also claimed Customs withheld the video for 10 months.

His lawyer, Alan Meyers, said: "You have to ask whether there was any credible evidence for a prosecution.

"It would appear from the summing-up that Mr Hall was convicted based on what the judge thought a drugs courier would look like."

A Dover Customs spokesman said: "Our solicitors' office is making further inquiries."
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Author:Armstrong, Jeremy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 14, 1998
Words:672
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