The Trial

The trial commenced in the intimidating and antiquated No. 1 Court at the Old Bailey on 15th April 2002 before Mr. (In)Justice George Newman who was seconded to the Old Bailey especially for the trial from the High Court, Queens Bench Division.

Mr. David Waters Q.C. led the case for the Crown in front of a jury of six ladies and six gentlemen. The Crown case against Nicholas consisted entirely of poor quality circumstantial features, and implied guilt by association. It was the Crown case that Raja had been executed in a professional contract killing by a gang of three men (two Anglo-Saxon, one Arabic) using a dilapidated £300 white transit van emblazoned “Thunderbird 2” as a getaway vehicle.

On the morning of 2nd July 1999 the transit van was parked opposite the home of Raja in Sutton, Surrey. Two Anglo-Saxon men, dressed as jobbing gardeners, were admitted by Raja into his home. A heated argument developed, followed by a single barrel shotgun being fired into the ceiling of the hallway. Raja drew a ten-inch kitchen knife on the men and a fight developed during which Raja was stabbed several times. Raja, still clutching his own knife, ran to the rear of the house whilst the shotgun was reloaded. The gunman then shot Raja in the head.

Of importance was the fact that Raja’s knife carried DNA from his own blood and from an unknown person – however, this was hidden from the jury. This scenario begs the question “what kind of a man arms himself with a knife before opening his door, and who or what was he expecting?” The law-abiding citizen would either not open his door at all or would call the police – he would not arm himself with a lethal weapon!

The answer to this conundrum lies in the shady and secretive world in which Raja operated. For some years Raja had been fending off personal bankruptcy and re-possession of his properties. He had a string of over one hundred convictions for health and housing offences in his role as a slum bedsit landlord. He was a serial mortgage fraudster and had been convicted of attempted bribery. Even his own home (which also housed a sitting tenant) was in the process of being re-possessed by the bank. Raja was heavily in debt to a number of parties, and had dealings with Hawala bankers, drug dealers and money launderers. Most of these facts were not divulged to the jury.

Fair to say, Nicholas was no easy touch and actively promoted his own colourful reputation as a no-nonsense landlord and ruthless businessman. However, Nicholas had an impeccable record for honesty and reliability in his business activities. Furthermore, Nicholas was a well known public figure of great wealth, cosmopolitan, intelligent, cultured and articulate – the very antithesis of Raja.

The Crown case against Nicholas was based on the following suggestions:

  1. One of his co-accused was the wayward son of long-standing tenants on his country estate and had been known to Nicholas for over 20 years.
  2. Nicholas had loaned monies to Raja around 1990/92 and they had fallen out when Raja failed to repay the money and disputed the amount due.
  3. In 1993 Raja made allegations of dishonesty and began a legal action against Nicholas.
  4. In 1993 Nicholas had described Raja as “a maggot in our society”.
  5. In 1998 Nicholas had stated “We pick thorns which are a pain and we break them”.
  6. That between August and November 1999, payments (mostly by cheques) to a total of £6,000 had been made by Nicholas to the co-accused son of his tenants.

The suggested motive: that Nicholas was angry about being accused of dishonesty by Raja, and was anxious to stop the legal proceedings.

The basis of the defence to these allegations was:

  1. Nicholas became a close friend of these tenants and assisted them from time to time over their problems with their son. Nicholas had not had any direct association with the son for upwards of ten years.
  2. Nicholas had security for the loans, and the net amount in dispute was no more than £50,000 regarded by Nicholas as “relative peanuts”.
  3. This action trundled on for six years without any momentum by Raja who had suppressed vital documents and committed perjury.
  4. Was not disputed.
  5. This statement or similar words were used by the Lebanese (see The Conspiracy) and related to his own legal and physical dispute with Raja over his property at 6 Brunswick Square,     Hove.
  6. These payments were clearly recorded as loans in contemporaneous documentation and even included a £2,000 partial repayment.

The suggested motive was utter nonsense. Nicholas was a very experienced litigant and knew only too well that any such interferance with an opponent or witness in litigation would be an attempt to pervert the course of justice and lead to the case being struck out in favour of the opponent.

The murder of Raja was clearly the most unlikely and improbable “professional contract killing” one could imagine, made even more ludicrous by the Crown suggestion that the contractor was Nicholas.

Of course, the jury were having none of it, and they became visibly more and more perplexed as the trial progressed.

However, they were right to be perplexed and sceptical, and to remain so, until the seventh day of their deliberations when they sent a note to the Judge asking for a written copy of his legal direction to them on manslaughter. This direction wrongly and expressly directed the jury to convict Nicholas of manslaughter if they believed that Nicholas employed the men to frighten Raja, that things went wrong and they killed him. This was a fatal misdirection, is not the law and breaches the Judicial Studies Board specimen directions with which Judges must comply.

Furthermore, the Crown had never suggested that Nicholas had employed men to frighten Raja, and Nicholas was never asked to defend such a suggestion. Likewise, throughout the trial the Crown had never suggested that Nicholas may be guilty of manslaughter, nor was Nicholas given any opportunity to defend such a charge.

Back to the trial – what was being hidden from the jury was of far more interest and relevance than the mostly mundane and sanitised “evidence” that was being fed to them by the Crown. There were countless adjournments (sometimes for half or even whole days) whilst legal arguments were put and additional disclosures were sought and demanded by the defence. Some forty percent of the trial time was occupied with such business. Documentary evidence and incidents that pointed to the innocence of any involvement by Nicholas in the crime, was “buried” and hidden by the police, not only from the defence but, more seriously, from the Crown. Some of this evidence only came to light during the course of the trial.