A £4 million legal battle between a baroness and a jailed lawyer could be derailed by prison officials testing 3,000 pages of court documents for traces of the drug spice.
Baroness Jacqueline van Zuylen, who lives in the Cotswolds and is the former wife of a Dutch nobleman, is suing Rodney Whiston-Dew over claims the “persuasive” solicitor swindled millions from her life savings in 2012.
Van Zuylen is asking the High Court in London to force the lawyer to repay £2 million she said she handed him to invest, plus the same again in damages.
Whiston-Dew, 70, was jailed in 2017 for ten years for conspiring to run one of Britain’s biggest tax frauds. He is defending the baroness’s claim from his jail cell and maintains he invested her funds properly.
The struck-off solicitor said he tried to convince the baroness “to rein in her extraordinary spending habits” and “exorbitant personal expenditures”.
However, the court heard this week that the trial, which is scheduled to begin next month, was “in jeopardy” because prison officers are individually testing every one of Whiston-Dew’s 3,000 pages of legal documents before allowing him to review the papers in prison. Whiston-Dew says that he cannot prepare his defence for the trial until the drugs tests are done.
Officials are understood to be particularly concerned about spice, a synthetic drug that produces cannabis-like effects. In its liquid form spice can be sprayed on to documents and it is frequently smuggled into prisons.
Prisons in the UK use an “itemiser” machine, which can automatically detect traces of illicit substances to identify mail doused with the drug.
Because of coronavirus regulations Whiston-Dew is being held in his cell for 23 hours a day at Wayland prison in Norfolk. Speaking over a video link from the prison, he denied swindling the baroness, adding that the delays caused by the drug tests had left him with no time to prepare his defence.
This article first appeared in The Times