Dance Academy boss launches 'miscarriage of justice' appeal against jailing
A notorious dance club boss, jailed for allowing "rampant" ecstasy dealing at a Plymouth night spot, now claims he was the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice.
More than £1m, and the future of the city's decaying Grade 1 listed New Palace Theatre, are at stake in Manochehr Bahmanzadeh's Appeal Court bid to clear his name.
Bahmanzadeh, who ran Union Street's Dance Academy, and general manager and DJ, Thomas Patrick Costelloe, 37, were jailed for nine and five years respectively in 2008 after they were convicted of allowing the supply of Class A drugs at the club.
But Bahmanzadeh has always protested his innocence and his case has been referred to the Court of Appeal for review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the independent body that investigates suspected miscarriages of justice.
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His counsel, James Wood QC, told a top judge today that "fresh evidence" uncovered since the trial had "fundamentally undermined" the Crown case against the club boss that he "deliberately permitted" drug dealing on the premises.
Mr Justice Nicol heard that, after his conviction, Bahmanzadeh was hit with a £1m confiscation order - which has been "paid in full" - and, if he succeeds in overturning the guilty verdict, every penny will be returned to him, with interest.
At a preliminary hearing in London today, the judge refused to release Bahmanzadeh on bail immediately, but directed lawyers on all sides to "get their skates on" so that his appeal can be heard before the end of the summer.
In pleading for his instant release, Mr Wood said Bahmanzadeh had been "bombarded" in prison with letters from Plymouth City Council regarding the dilapidated condition of the historic theatre and wanted his freedom so he could start to implement a restoration plan.
Speaking of Bahmanzadeh's parlous medical condition, the barrister added: "He has aged absolutely remarkably during his sentence; his teeth are in danger of falling out".
Mr Wood urged the judge that, if Bahmanzadeh, now in his mid-50s, absconded before his appeal, not only would it be dismissed but he would also forfeit the £1m he has paid under the confiscation order.
The court heard Costelloe has also lodged his case with the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the QC said: "I have been told that a reference is imminent, but I don't know whether that is based on fact or not".
If the case of Costelloe, from Honiton, Devon is referred to the Appeal Court, Mr Wood said his appeal would probably have to be heard alongside his former boss's challenge.
Costelloe, the court heard, has already served his sentence and Bahmanzadeh's earliest release date is December 31 this year. Mr Wood urged that, with just a few more months to serve and major question marks over the "safety" of his conviction, it would be fair to release him today.
Arguing there were "exceptional" reasons for granting bail, the QC added that Bahmanzadeh's nine-year sentence was at the very top end of the scale and will also be reviewed at the Appeal Court hearing.
Refusing to free Bahmanzadeh immediately, Mr Justice Nicol said bail is only granted pending appeal in the most exceptional cases. "His appeal may, of course, succeed but that is not sufficient for me to grant bail at this stage", he ruled.
Recognising the need to hear Bahmanzadeh's appeal before his sentence expires, the judge said lawyers must "strive" to have the case ready for hearing by three Appeal Court judges before the end of the summer.
"People have just got to their skates on", he told the court.
Mr Wood earlier told the judge that Bahmanzadeh's lawyers are currently tackling vast amounts of evidence and an application may have to be made for further disclosure from the Crown. The hearing of his appeal is expected to last three days.
Bahmanzadeh and Costelloe were arrested after undercover police began monitoring the club in December 2005, eventually sending in 140 riot police to raid the premises in May 2006. Sixteen drug dealers were later prosecuted and jailed for their activities at the club.
Both men deny allowing the dealing to take place, insisting they did their best to stop it and that the Dance Academy had a "zero tolerance" drugs policy.