Two career criminal brothers won an appeal against an arduous court order on a technicality after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made a mistake with its paperwork. Merseyside brothers James Shirley and Ross Shirley were given Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPOs) in June 2021, two years after they were jailed over a multi-million pounds mortgage and luxury car fraud scheme.
The orders are designed to curb the lifestyles of serious organized criminals after release to protect the public and can include restrictions on associating with other criminals or possessing cash or mobile phones. However due to “careless disregard” by CPS lawyers, the men were able to argue the CPS had failed to include the correct ‘prosecuting authority’ who signed off on the orders, in breach of legislation preventing their misuse.
The Court of Appeal heard that both men were considered “career criminals” by Merseyside Police and were believed to have been involved in guns, drugs and money laundering offences. In 2018 James and Ross Shirley were prosecuted alongside their mum Norma Shirley, their respective wives Toni Smith and Danielle Brighouse, and associate Eric Scragg over a fraud and money laundering ring, reports the ECHO.
Readmore: ‘I was locked in a room and forced to sleep with 16 men a day’
Over a period of four years, members of the Shirley family committed multiple mortgage frauds by falsely declaring their income so they could obtain mortgages on luxury properties in Kirkby, Widnes, Ormskirk and Warrington. In addition, disabled people were systematically exploited into buying more than 120 high-value luxury vehicles, including Bentley Continentals, Porches, Range Rovers and high-powered Audis.
More than £5m worth of vehicles were purchased in this way, evading around £1m in VAT. The scheme came crashing down after James Shirley, then of Deerbolt Way, Kirkby, was arrested on suspicion of possessing cannabis and found in possession of £6,000 cash and receipts for hydroponics equipment, shown in court to be for the commercial and industrial production of cannabis .
He was convicted of two counts of mortgage fraud, conspiracy to evade VAT and money laundering after a trial at Manchester Crown Court and jailed for six years and three months. Ross Shirley, then of Jefferson Drive, in Great Sankey, Warrington, was convicted of two counts of mortgage fraud, conspiracy to evade VAT and money laundering and jailed for three years. He has since been released.
The applications for the SHPOs were made in 2018, the year of their sentences. But, due to mistakes in the application process and then Covid-related delays, the final orders were not made until last year.
In a written judgment, Court of Appeal judge Lady Justice Macur wrote: “The course of the SCPO proceedings did not run smoothly and took a significant period of time to complete.
“Although the timetable appears to have been disrupted, as were so many hearings during the pandemic, it is also of note that the draft SCPO’s were in their seventh iteration by the time of final approval, and even then, the final SCPO served on [Ross Shirley] is granted by Mr Savage, representing the Special Fraud Division Manchester CPS, to be incorrect and would be necessary to amend to accord with the order made by the judge below, if these appeals are dismissed or no further amendments made. This is a cause for concern and calls for adverse comment; it suggests a careless disregard for the nature of the order that is sought.”
The court heard the application for the SCPOs was based on evidence presented by Merseyside Police Detective Sergeant Chris Lowe, who described both brothers as “career criminals” with involvement in serious crime. Lady Macur wrote: “[James Shirley’s] antecedent record covered the period 1998 to 2012.
“Evidence as to his money laundering and criminal activity abroad was supplied and the fact of what appeared to be targeted serious criminal attempts to cause physical harm to him and other of his family members by rivals. Further, on 15 March 2012, he was said to have been accorded a gold status Merseyside ‘nominal gun crime’ due to an intelligence picture around his use and access to firearms.”
DS Lowe said Ross Shirley’s record covered the period 1998 to 2010, including a previous conviction for supply of class A drugs. Lady Macur wrote: “He too had sent money out of the country. He had been involved in criminal offenses abroad. He too, on 15 March 2012, he was said to have been accorded a gold status Merseyside ‘nominal gun crime’ due to an intelligence picture around his use and access to firearms.
“Both were subject of Merseyside Police intelligence that suggested that they were part of an organized criminal gang, involved in the use of firearms, supply of controlled drugs and violent offences. The police held 250 intelligence reports relating to [James] and 260 in relation to [Ross].
“A small number of examples of the intelligence were provided, with the indication that ‘their unexplained wealth has allowed them to live beyond their means, spending money on lavish holidays, expensive houses and high value and specification motor vehicles’.”
Lady Macur concluded that while the judge who granted the original orders was entitled to come to the conclusion that the reasons for the orders were reasonable, she ruled that the applications had not been served on the Shirley brothers correctly. The CPS could potentially apply to the Crown Court for new orders.
A spokeswoman for the CPS said: “We are considering the next steps following today’s Court of Appeal decision in the case of James Shirley and Ross Shirley. It is not appropriate to comment further at this stage.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.