Nicholas John Baker

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Nick Baker
Born Gloucestershire, England
Occupation chef
Criminal charge Drug smuggling
Criminal penalty 11 years' imprisonment,
¥3,000,000 fine
Criminal status Paroled in October 2008
Parent(s) Iris Baker

Nicholas John 'Nick' Baker is a British citizen who was convicted of smuggling cocaine and ecstasy into Japan. He was arrested at Narita Airport on 13 April 2002 and found guilty by the Chiba Prefecture District Court in June 2003. He was sentenced to 14 years' jail with forced labour and fined ¥5,000,000.[1] At his trial Baker claimed that he was tricked by his travelling companion, James Prunier, into carrying the drugs through customs in a false-bottomed suitcase.[2] Baker also claimed that during his initial detention he was mistreated by Japanese authorities with sleep deprivation, no access to legal counsel, and that he was forced to sign a confession written in poor and inaccurate English. Baker's conviction was upheld on appeal but Baker's sentence was reduced to 11 years in prison and the fine to ¥3,000,000. Baker was transferred back to England in the Spring of 2008 to serve the remainder of his sentence.[3] After spending six-months at London's Wandsworth prison, Baker was released on licence in October 2008.[4]

Background and arrest[edit]

Baker, a trained chef[5][6] and former sandwich-shop manager,[7][8] ran a fencing business in his home town of Stroud, Gloucestershire,[9] where he lived with his fiancée and their baby son.[7][10] Baker had met Prunier 3 years before through a mutual interest in football.[11][12][13] Prunier had problems with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and later admitted that he had been involved in criminal activities at this time.[7][14][15][16][17]

Baker said that Prunier and he, who had been travelling together in Europe, had decided to go to Japan before the 2002 FIFA World Cup to buy souvenirs and allow Prunier to rent a flat for the tournament.[13][18] Baker and Prunier left Brussels National Airport in Belgium on 12 April, transited through London's Heathrow Airport and arrived at Tokyo's Narita airport at approximately 11:00 a.m. JST, on 13 April 2002.[5][19]

Baker claimed in a later statement that he had been drinking and was tired from the long flight. He reported that after Prunier and he were split-up at airport immigration, they had met up again at the baggage carousel, and Prunier had told him "I haven't seen your bag yet, Nick. You grab this and get in a queue and I'll join you when yours comes out."[5][10] When the bag Baker was carrying was searched in customs, 41,120 tablets of ecstasy and 992.5 grams of cocaine were found hidden in false compartments of the suitcase,[11][20] the largest single illegal drugs haul at Narita airport at that time.[8][20]

Baker, who has a heavy regional accent,[21][22] reported that he had told the customs officials, who had limited English language skills, that the case was Prunier's.[5][10] According to the prosecution at his trial, Baker had the suitcase key in his possession, and threw it into the suitcase during the search.[2][23][24] Prunier passed through customs, and although Japanese police monitored his mobile telephone conversations and his movements (including photographing his departure from Japan two days later), he was not detained or questioned.[25][26]

Initial detention[edit]

As is customary in Japan, following his arrest Nick Baker was detained for 23 days and questioned without access to a lawyer.[5][27] Baker reported that he was interrogated by as many as six police officers at any one time, shackled to a chair, with his hands tied behind his back.[9][26] Baker claimed that throughout this period the lights were kept on so he could not sleep and that he did not eat for 20 days.[10] Baker denied that the suitcase was his and claimed that Prunier had tricked him into carrying it through customs.[5][18][24] However, at the end of the detention period, he signed a statement in Japanese that during the trial was seen as inconsistent and self-incriminating.[5][22][28] Baroness Sarah Ludford, a member of the European Parliament and justice spokeswoman for the United Kingdom's Liberal Democratic Party, criticized the quality of the Japanese-English interpretation during the interrogation, and noted that Baker was required to sign a witness statement in Japanese, a language he did not understand.[10][29] Baker later claimed that the police had told him that if he signed a statement he would be incriminating Prunier and that he would be allowed to return home.[1][5] Baker was indicted on 1 May for violation of the Narcotic and Psychotropic Drug Control Law, and Customs Law.

Baker's mother reported that his health had deteriorated during his detention including bleeding gums, a broken finger, daily headaches, severe depression, and extreme back pain caused by sitting on the concrete floor.[5] Until the start of his trial ten months later, Baker was kept in solitary confinement for refusing to admit his guilt,[5][10][30][31] and put on suicide watch because of depression.[18][25]

Chiba District Court trial[edit]

The trial, which opened in February 2003,[32][33] centred on whether Baker had been aware of the contents of the suitcase as well as an examination of the interrogation records and the confession he had signed.[27][34] Baker claimed that the statement was mispresentation of his words[27] and his lawyer, Shunji Miyake, argued that since there was no video or audio recording of the interrogations, and no defence lawyer was present, there was no way to check whether falsifications and mistranslations had taken place.[9][19] Miyake also questioned what he claimed were the 'leading nature' of the questions asked by the interrogators.[19] Baker maintained that the bag was Prunier's, that he had never had the key to the case,[2] and that he had been tricked into carrying the bag by Prunier.[27][28] Prunier had been arrested for drug smuggling in Belgium a month after Baker's arrest, and his co-accused in the Belgian case had also claimed that Prunier had duped them into carrying bags with drugs.[6][9][28] The court ruled the evidence from the Belgian police was inadmissible, and it was not introduced during the trial.[13][27][28]

In June 2003, the presiding judge, Kenji Kadoya, who had never found a defendant innocent in a career spanning more than a decade,[9][13] found Baker guilty. He said Baker must have known the contents of the case because he had carried the key and had told customs officials and prosecutors that the case belonged to him. The judge also noted a signed confession, which implied Baker knew he was carrying drugs in the bag.[1]

In the three-hour judgment, which was an almost word-for-word copy of the prosecution's argument, Kadoya said "This is a heinous crime. "This amount of drugs was a record. If they had entered our country, they would have harmed a large number of people."[25] In June 2003, Baker was sentenced to 14 years in prison with forced labour and a ¥5,000,000 fine.[25][35] Baker's lawyer said Baker had been punished more heavily because he had protested his innocence rather than confessing, which is the usual method by which prosecutors secure convictions.[25]

In August 2003, James Prunier was interviewed on Central TV about the case. He admitted to being involved in drug smuggling, but denied that he had framed Baker, claiming that Baker was aware of the contents of the case.[7][8][9][17] He subsequently committed suicide in August 2004, while on bail for the Belgian case.[6][14]

Tokyo High Court appeal[edit]

The High Court appeal began March 2004.[32] The defence argued that poor translation during police interrogations and during the district court trial had affected the outcome of the trial[1][36] and submitted expert testimony about translation errors.[1][21][36] They also suggested that the investigation was improperly conducted, that there were inconsistencies in official reports,[24][37] and that important evidence, such as the Belgian information, had been ignored at the original trial.[1][38][39]

On 27 October 2005 the presiding judge upheld the guilty verdict, rejecting defence suggestions.[1][40] The judge questioned why Baker had travelled to Japan after Prunier had told him "If anything goes wrong on the way to Japan, your family will be killed."[39] He also noted that the drugs were very skillfully hidden,[1] and that more than half of the contents of the suitcase belonged to Baker, suggesting that it belonged to him.[1][36] The judge also commented that "the defendant has not reflected sincerely on his acts."[1] However, he reduced the sentence from 14 years to 11 years noting that Baker did not seem to be the mastermind, and his family had been worried about him.[39][41] Baker's fine was also reduced from ¥5,000,000 (approximately £24,392) to ¥3,000,000 (approximately £14,635). This had to be paid within four weeks or he would have to serve an extra 150 days of hard labour.[1][41]

In November 2005, Baker decided not to appeal to Japan's Supreme Court[41] and was transferred to Fuchu Prison to begin serving his sentence.[42] Having served one third of his sentence, Nick Baker was transferred back to England in the spring of 2008 to serve the remainder of his sentence.[3] After six months at London's Wandsworth prison he was released on licence in October 2008.[4]

Reactions[edit]

In April 2003, Baker's mother Iris publicly stated her belief that Nick Baker was innocent and had been framed.[32][41] She subsequently led a campaign against her son's allegedly unfair trial, for better prison treatment and more recently for a transfer back to a UK prison.[41][43] Campaign actions including presenting a petition signed by more than 1,000 people,[34][44] including several Members of European Parliament, to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street.[32][45][46]

In July 2003, Lady Ludford called for Tony Blair to raise the issue during a summit with his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi though he did not do so.[9][47] A question was raised in the British House of Commons in 2004 regarding progress of the case and Baker's health and confinement conditions.[48] Mark Devlin, who at the time was the publisher of Metropolis, initially supported the Nick Baker campaign but withdrew his support in 2004 and publicly criticized the support group's campaign tactics.[49][50][51][52]

The International Bar Association cited problems specific to the Baker case, particularly the lack of any recordings of interrogations in a 2006 report.[53] Fair Trials Abroad, director Stephen Jakobi said Baker's case raised major concerns regarding the Japanese justice system and its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,[54] and pointed out Senrikinran University linguistics Professor Makiko Mizuno's criticism of the Japanese judiciary's understanding of what constitutes an able interpreter.[55]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ito, Masami (28 October 2005). "Drug felon Nick Baker's sentence reduced to 11 years". Kyodo News. Japan Today. Retrieved 2007-07-20. 
  2. ^ a b c "Briton questioned in Japanese court during appeal of drug smuggling sentence". Associated Press. 7 December 2004. 
  3. ^ a b Tilley, Emma (21 May 2008). "Nick Baker Sent Back to Britain to Finish Jail Sentence". Japan Today. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  4. ^ a b "Stroud businessman convicted of drug trafficking finally freed". Wiltshire and Gloustershire Standard. 7 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Noblestone, Josh (November 7, 2003). "Trial and error". Metropolis (Japanese magazine). Archived from the original on 2007-09-12. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  6. ^ a b c Lloyd Parry, Richard; Horsnell, Michael (20 August 2004). "Death of drugs trial witness deepens riddle". London: The Times. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Nick wasn't set up says travelling companion". Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard. August 29, 2003. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 
  8. ^ a b c Lewis, Leo (November 2003). "And justice for all … Nick Baker is imprisoned in Japan. Should he be?". Japan, Inc. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Mcneill, David (27 October 2003). "A nightmare abroad.". The Independent - London. Retrieved 2007-07-13. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b c d e f McNeill, David (28 October 2003). "Convicted Briton says he was drug run patsy". The Japan Times. 
  11. ^ a b Tibbetts, Graham (24 May 2003). "Fair trial fears for Briton in drugs case". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-07-20. 
  12. ^ "I was set up claims jailed Nick". The Gloucestershire Echo. 3 November 2003. 
  13. ^ a b c d "I'll fight for my son until it kills me". The Guardian. August 18, 2003. 
  14. ^ a b "Train suicide for drugs case man". BBC news. 10 February 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  15. ^ "Drugs-link man put head on line". The Birmingham Post. 10 February 2005. 
  16. ^ "Rail death: 'No third party was involved'". The Citizen. 10 February 2005. 
  17. ^ a b "'I didn't dupe Nick into carrying drugs'". The Citizen. 20 August 2004. 
  18. ^ a b c Lewis, Leo; Smith, Lewis (13 June 2003). "Drug trial Briton 'may die in Japanese cell'". London: The Times. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  19. ^ a b c "The struggle for Justice". theforeigner-japan.com. November 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  20. ^ a b Noblestone, Josh (21 October 2005). "British inmate awaits verdict on drug-bust appeal". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 
  21. ^ a b "Interpretation mistakes marring justice in Japan's courts". The Japan Times. 25 October 2005. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  22. ^ a b Ryall, Julian (28 October 2005). "Briton attacks Tokyo court over son's drug conviction". South China Morning Post. 
  23. ^ "Wait over smuggle decision". The Citizen. 22 July 2005. 
  24. ^ a b c "Customs official is quizzed". The Citizen. 1 September 2004. 
  25. ^ a b c d e Watts, Jonathan (13 June 2003). "'Duped' Briton gets 14 years: Outrage over Japanese drug smuggling sentence". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  26. ^ a b "Nick Baker, Japan, March 2004". Fair Trials Abroad. March 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  27. ^ a b c d e Watts, Jonathan (29 May 2003). "Peer alleges Briton's trial is flawed". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  28. ^ a b c d Joyce, Colin (28 October 2005). "Mother's anger at 'injustice' as son loses drug appeal". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  29. ^ "Nick Baker case: the final leg". www.sarahludford.org.uk. 20 July 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  30. ^ "Nick Baker, Japan, March 2004". www.fairtrialsabroad.org. March 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  31. ^ "Nick Baker case - 3 years on". www.sarahludford.org. 19 April 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  32. ^ a b c d "Stages in Baker case". The Citizen. 20 August 2004. 
  33. ^ "Man Tried In Japan Drug Case". The Citizen. 20 February 2003. 
  34. ^ a b "Drug smuggler's friends appeal to Blair for fair appeal". Kyodo News International. 15 September 2003. Retrieved 2007-07-20. [dead link]
  35. ^ "Briton gets for 14 years' jail for drug smuggling". The Independent. 13 June 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 
  36. ^ a b c "Briton has sentence for drug-smuggling reduced to 11 years". The Japan Times. 28 October 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-18. 
  37. ^ Hollingsworth, William (19 October 2005). "Tokyo High Court to rule next week on drug smuggler's conviction". Kyodo News. 
  38. ^ "Drug smuggling Briton gives his side of story". The Birmingham Post. 8 December 2004. 
  39. ^ a b c Lewis, Leo (28 October 2005). "Drug-run Briton to stay in Japanese jail". London: The Times. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  40. ^ "Judge rejects drugs man's appeal". BBC News. 27 October 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  41. ^ a b c d e Hollingsworth, William (4 November 2005). "British drug smuggler rules out further appeal". Kyodo News. 
  42. ^ "Boy's card from prison". The Citizen. 14 March 2006. 
  43. ^ "Let me complete my prison sentence in UK". The Citizen. 3 July 2007. 
  44. ^ "Jailed Briton's family petition PM". BBC. 12 September 2003. Retrieved 2007-07-20. 
  45. ^ "Briton convicted for drug smuggling in Japan starts appeal". The Associated Press. 23 March 2004. 
  46. ^ "The Campaign goes to Downing Street". Sarah Ludford MEP. September 11, 2003. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  47. ^ "I Won't Give Up Fight For My Nick.". Gloucestershire Echo. 31 July 2003. 
  48. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 8 Dec 2004 (pt 28)". The Stationery Office Ltd. December 8, 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  49. ^ Holloway, Kirsten (18 November 2005). "Convicted drug smuggler Nick Baker’s story is not what it first appeared". Metropolis Magazine. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  50. ^ "Prisoner's mother is accused by publisher". Swindon Advertiser. 30 September 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  51. ^ "Iris visits jailed son in Japan". Gloucestershire Echo. 22 September 2004. 
  52. ^ "Iris sees her son in Japan prison". The Citizen. 18 September 2004. 
  53. ^ "Interrogation of Criminal Suspects in Japan" International Bar Association, December 2003
  54. ^ "Nick Baker appeal result - The Japanese system was on trial and it failed". Fair Trials Abroad. 2005-10-27. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  55. ^ "FTA Review 2006" Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Fair Trials Abroad. 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 

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