After two years on bail awaiting trial in the criminal courts in London, and just a few weeks before the start of pre-trial hearings, the case against two leaders of the Santo Daime Church in the UK has been dramatically dropped after the Crown Prosecution Service decided to abandon their case.
By Adrian Freedman and Jane Liddell, writen especially for this site
In September – November 2010 seven members of the Santo Daime church in the UK were arrested and placed on bail. Boxes of Santo Daime were seized and shown to contain DMT and a police investigation was launched. At this time charges were brought only against one person, Adrian Freedman, while the other 6 people remained on bail. The charge was Fraudulently Evading Prohibition on a Banned Substance. In these initial stages of the case the Defence legal team gathered evidence and expert witness statements to show the legal ambiguity of the status of ayahuasca, as well as the bona fide nature of the Santo Daime as a religious practice, and also the proven health benefits and lack of proof of harm concerning the sacrament. All this information was put before the Director of Public Prosecutions who then agreed to conduct a review of the case. The results of this review were that 5 people were released from bail without any further charges, but the DPP decided to pursue prosecutions against Adrian Freedman and also Jane Liddell. In addition to the individual charges brought against Adrian and Jane they were also charged with Conspiracy to import banned substances due to their both being directors of Encontro 2010, a company which had been set up to host the European Encontro of Padrinho Alfredo and the Cefluris group of Santo Daime churches. At this stage (April 2011) the investigation was taken out of the hands of the provincial prosecutors in the SouthWest and the North of England (where Adrian and Jane live) and was give to the Serious Crimes and Anti-Terrorist Group based in London. After further delays the trial was finally listed to take place in January 2013, with three days of pre-trial legal hearings set for December 2012. At these pre-trial hearings the defence arguments for abuse of process regarding the legal uncertainty of ayahuasca as a classified substance, as well as Article 9 rights of religious freedom were to be placed before the judge. Without any warning, last week, on Friday 26th October, the prosecution sent a letter abandoning the case. As yet we do not know the precise reasons why they have come to this decision. In the letter they wrote that Evidence that it was believed would prove a key element of the offence, when carefully reviewed in the context of the whole case and further information supplied by the police, is now believed to be insufficient for there to be a realistic prospect of a conviction. As Jane and Adrian were formally charged in court they need to return to court to have the Prosecution offer no evidence and for ‘not guilty’ verdicts to be returned. The date for this court hearing has not been set and officially Jane and Adrian remain on police bail. But, assuming there are no further upsets between now and the next court hearing, this is a great outcome for Adrian and Jane personally, and a tremendous relief for their families and supporters. However the situation is far from over, as the Prosecution also wrote in their letter that It is not accepted that the N-Dimethyltrptamie (DMT) found in the tea falls outside prohibition imposed by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. In other words they still maintain that ayahuasca is illegal and so fresh attempts to import it could result in arrest or prosecution. Quite where this leaves us in terms of next steps is difficult to say, at least until after the next court hearing, but both Adrian and Jane are committed to continuing this battle until the use of the Daime as a sacrament is given the legal recognition it deserves.
Messages of support can be sent to Adrian and Jane at [email protected]