Britain's biggest supergrass in court bid to protect new identity amid revenge hit fears


BRITAIN'S biggest ever supergrass, whose evidence led to 29 organised criminals being jailed for a total of 250 years, is facing a legal battle to protect his new identity amid fears he could be found and assassinated.

The witness, born as Craig Winch, and two female relatives, have applied to the High Court for a permanent injunction to ban the publication of any details that could reveal their whereabouts and new personas with an imminent hearing due.

In a move reminiscent of FBI informant Henry Hill played by Ray Liotta (below) in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mob movie Goodfellas, Mr Winch turned Queen's evidence after he was facing up to life in prison for 23 offences including drug dealing, arson with intent to endanger life and burglary.

He admitted them and escaped with a 15-month suspended prison term due to his level of cooperation.

Details of his major assistance to police emerged in April at the conclusion of a sixth organised crime trial he was a prosecution witness for known only as Mr X.

However, his former identity was revealed by his solicitor Martin Forshaw the following month after he secured an interim injunction against his new identity being released.

Teesside Crown Court heard before his sentencing that the former high-level drug supplier spent eight months giving 115 recorded interviews leading to 10,000 pages of evidence that was used across the six trials concerning charges including conspiring to supply drugs, kidnap, false imprisonment, assault and conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

He spent 40 days in the witness box over the six trials that began in 2018 and the criminals he shopped face losing millions under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

JAILED: Lee Ratcliff

Sentencing him, Judge Deborah Sherwin said: “It is believed the assistance you provided is the greatest ever in this country.

“If your life wasn’t in danger before, I am certain it is now.

“Wherever you live you will spend your life constantly having to look over your shoulder and in fear. I have no doubt you will be professionally sought by those who wish you harm."

The court heard Winch had already been tortured by three men in 2014 after he stole cocaine from a drug baron, to try to clear a debt.

He had to have his spleen removed following the attack with pliers and a Stanley knife and could have died, the court heard.

It was reported at the conclusion of the final trial that Mr Winch and his close relatives had been placed into the witness protection programme, but the CPS and the North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU), which led the investigation, refused to confirm this or answer questions about why Mr Winch was having to seek the injunction from court himself.

A NERSOU spokesman said: "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on the identity of witnesses subjected to the SOCPA process."

An emergency interim injunction is about to expire, leaving them vulnerable to exposure if the order is not made.

If granted, the permanent order would prevent anyone from publishing their new names, addresses and other identifying details such as descriptions or photographs.

The court will hear an application by Mr Winch and the relatives for an injunction that would also prevent publication of any photographs or descriptions of them or their accents or details of current or former addresses or social media accounts.

Solicitor Martin Forshaw, who represented Mr Winch, said in a statement the three were at "a significant and weighty risk of death or very serious violence should members of Organised Crime Groups or their associates locate and identify them."

He said: "The sentence was far less than the ordinary sentencing guidelines would suggest, partly because Mr Winch was an Assisting Offender under section 73 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. An Assisting Offender is more commonly known as an informer or, in Mr Winch’s case, a “supergrass”.

"The risk is that all the claimants will be punished by organised criminals because of the good that Mr Winch has done by helping to convict them."

The application comes as some of those jailed on the back of Mr Winch's testimonies have claimed to be victims of miscarriages of justice.

Five defendants jailed for conspiracy to supply cocaine in January 2019 launched an appeal, but in April 2020, the Court of Appeal rejected all bar one - a thirtieth man jailed on Mr Winch's evidence - who was acquitted and freed.

Two other defendants, Lee Ratcliff and Tony Trott (above), have a Facebook page which claims they are not guilty, were convicted solely on the words of a supergrass and should be freed.

In November 2018 Trott and Ratcliff were locked up for 26 and 24 years respectively after they were convicted of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, after in 2016 shots were fired at a Sunderland house, missing the three occupants inside, and conspiracy to supply cocaine.

Ratcliff, convicted of firing the gun, failed in a 2019 appeal, but is seeking another amid claims he is shorter than the gunman as described by witnesses and was not at the scene.

Trott hopes to have an appeal heard in the new year.

A spokesman for their Facebook page said: "They were convicted on Micky Mouse hearsay evidence. We are going to fight this all the way."