Frustration as charge is dropped

Firefighters use both ladders and a turntable ladder to reach the upper floors to rescue people from the multi-occupancy premises in Milton Road Portsmouth

Firefighters use both ladders and a turntable ladder to reach the upper floors to rescue people from the multi-occupancy premises in Milton Road Portsmouth

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A DRUG dealer known as ‘Scarface’ who was accused of an arson attack that claimed the life of an innocent man has had the charges against him dropped. 

James Vaughan is facing years behind bars for running a multi-million pound cocaine ring that took in Portsmouth and Fareham.

Kevin Holmes

Kevin Holmes

But the charges of manslaughter, arson and causing grievous bodily harm following a blaze in a block of flats in Milton Road, Portsmouth, were all dropped at Winchester Crown Court.

For the families of Kevin Holmes, who died in the fire and Karl Hubbard, who was left with permanent brain damage, it means their long wait for justice goes on.

And for Hampshire Constabulary’s major crime unit it is a frustrating end to an investigation that has taken nearly three and a half years.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Powell, senior investigating officer for Operation Sash, said: ‘We are extremely disappointed that the case has been discontinued.

‘I am confident that the case has been investigated extensively, thoroughly and professionally.

‘Most importantly, our thoughts at this time are with Karl Hubbard and the family of Kevin Holmes.’

Vaughan, 31, was accused of starting the fire just after midnight on Monday, September 17, 2007, to scare drug dealer Freddie Fields into repaying a £30,000 debt.

Vaughan himself, it was said, was under pressure to pay £100,000 to his own supplier.

Fields, 26, and his girlfriend escaped unharmed while others were rescued by firefighters. But Mr Holmes, 40, and Mr Hubbard, now 33, were trapped in the top floor flat of the old Post Office building.

Following a lengthy police investigation detectives uncovered the major drugs ring and Vaughan emerged as the main suspect behind the fire.

His home was raided in 2008, just over a year after the blaze, but he had fled the country to Thailand just in time.

He was arrested in February last year by armed police in Hove, East Sussex.

From the outset the trial was beset by delays and legal arguments.

It ended with prosecutor Christopher Parker QC telling the jury of five men and seven women the charges against Vaughan, relating to the fire, were to be dropped.

He said: ‘During the course of this trial there has been a continuing review as to whether or not there was a realistic prospect of securing a conviction against each of the defendants in the dock on the available evidence.

‘Following the latest review of that available evidence the Crown have reached the conclusion that in the case of James Vaughan and in the case of Gary Vaughan there is no realistic prospect of a conviction on these counts.’

He added: ‘It is self-evident that to date nobody has been found criminally responsible for the death of Kevin Holmes and the permanent and serious injuries to Karl Hubbard.

‘That has not been through a lack of effort on the part of those who investigated this matter for many years.’

The problems for the Crown are understood to have centred on the reliability of a key witness – a man who was part of Vaughan’s murky drug dealing world but who had turned against his old boss to give evidence for the prosecution.

With Vaughan’s defence raising a number of question marks hanging over his evidence, the prosecution moved to end the trial in its third week. The charges were dropped on Thursday, February 3, but a court order prevented the details being reported until now. Judge Nicola Davies said: ‘I am in no doubt a great deal of thought has gone into this decision.’

Vaughan, of no fixed address but formerly from Brighton, has admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine between June 2006 and February last year.

Vaughan’s older brother Gary Vaughan, 35, of Brook Lane, Ferring, Worthing, had the charge of conspiracy to supply cocaine dropped. He declined to comment as he left court.

Simon Collins, 30, of Marlborough Drive, Burgess Hill, had denied having anything to do with the drug dealing but he has now changed his plea to guilty.

Vaughan and Collins are due to be sentenced in March.

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