Woman found not guilty after ‘romantic’ birthday trip to Jersey turned out to be a drug smuggling operation

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Merseyside-based April Daisy Hodges reacted with tears of relief after the decision of Jurats Collette Crill and Pamela Pitman was read to the Royal Court.

The 27-year-old had denied any knowledge of the drugs plot, telling the court that she travelled to Jersey with her boyfriend for a romantic ‘birthday treat’, only to learn months later, after her arrest, that he was a kingpin in a criminal gang.

Earlier in the trial the court heard that Miss Hodges’ boyfriend, Liverpudlian Neil Heskin, had already admitted to his role in the conspiracy to import cannabis, as had another gang member from Liverpool, John O’Connor, and three local players: Norman Templeton-Brown, David Arrowsmith and Alan Smitton.

The men are awaiting sentencing.

Giving evidence in her defence, Miss Hodges said that while she was aware that Heskin had a criminal record, she did not know what crimes he had committed.

‘I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough at the time to ask about it,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t something that bothered me at the time.’

Three of the conspirators – Smitton, Heskin and O’Connor – were all involved in a previous plot to bring drugs into Jersey, which was masterminded in Liverpool in 2005.

Heskin served 6½ years in prison after being convicted for his role in that plot.

Miss Hodges said she believed that if he had been imprisoned for something serious she would have heard about it, as where they lived was ‘a small place’.

She told the court that she had presumed he had served time in a ‘local prison’.

Heskin – who was listed as one of Merseyside’s nine ‘most wanted’ in 2014 – had also been arrested for cannabis offences in the city in 2013 and 2015.

The couple travelled to the Island twice in October and November 2017, first staying for two weeks, over the course of which time the police observed them meeting with others from the drugs gang.

Answering questions put to her by Advocate Sarah Dale, defending, Miss Hodges said that she knew the others only as ‘Neil’s friends’ and that drugs were never discussed in her presence.

They returned home after Heskin was arrested following a fight at the Merton, which Miss Hodges said ‘spoiled’ the trip.

But two days later, the couple were planning to move to Jersey and she began looking for a place to stay.

During cross-examination, Miss Hodges told Crown Advocate Simon Thomas that they had made up by then and decided that Jersey was a nice place and that they would look for jobs.

Earlier, Miss Hodges told the court that in Liverpool she worked in casual jobs and that Heskin was a self-employed bricklayer.

Crown Advocate Thomas asked whether she wondered how they could be ‘living the high life’ in Jersey, staying in hotels and drinking champagne, despite these small incomes and how they would afford to live in Jersey if they moved. ‘Because we would be working,’ Miss Hodges said.

On the second trip, the pair were arrested, along with Heskin’s co-conspirators.

While the Crown argued that Miss Hodges had played a role in the conspiracy, because she had made travel arrangements for herself, Heskin and O’Connor, the defence’s case was that Heskin had simply used her accounts and bankcard, as it was argued that customary for the couple.

Advocate Dale said that at most Miss Hodges was used as a ‘decoy’ by a group of middle-aged men, who were all well known to one another through their past criminal activities. She pointed out that Heskin had used his girlfriend in 2005 in a ‘similar’ way.

Miss Hodges, who had been in police custody, was released and left the court with supporters, who had attended the two-day trial.

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