Patched Red Devils in clear

DRUG BUST: Armed police stand guard outside a Red Devils pad in Nelson during a raid at the conclusion of Operation ...

DRUG BUST: Armed police stand guard outside a Red Devils pad in Nelson during a raid at the conclusion of Operation Explorer in March, 2011.

All patched members of the Red Devils Motorcycle Club netted in a major police undercover operation in Nelson may walk free as a result of a "significant" High Court judgment.

A ruling by Justice David Collins this week has effectively thrown out 117 of the original 148 charges against 20 defendants arrested during Operation Explorer - a police investigation that involved two undercover officers infiltrating the Red Devils in Nelson.

Only eight defendants facing a total of 31 charges will proceed to trial, according to the judgment.

Sources said all patched members of the Red Devils caught in the undercover operation were no longer facing charges.

"All the patched members have walked," one source said.

The judgment has been referred to Crown Law for the solicitor-general to consider an appeal.

The reduction in charges and defendants is the result of a ruling by Justice Collins on February 20 that evidence improperly obtained by police between June 2010 and March 2011, during Operation Explorer, be excluded from trial.

He said evidence for "serious" charges would be allowed.

A suppression order prevents reporting of the reasons why the evidence has been excluded until the end of the trial.

A hearing on which charges should be deemed "serious" was held in the High Court at Nelson on March 6.

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In his latest judgment, released on Wednesday, Justice Collins found only 31 charges were serious enough to proceed to trial.

He ruled that the remaining charges did not meet the threshold of seriousness and evidence obtained by police in relation to them cannot be produced at trial.

They include charges for alleged drug dealing at the Red Devils clubrooms; possession of firearms; threatening to kill; conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm; theft of meat, petrol and other products.

Most of the serious charges are related to the alleged role of Terry Jones in the supply of methamphetamine from Auckland to Nelson.

Some of the charges against those who allegedly conspired with Jones in the methamphetamine trade were also deemed to be serious.

Barrister Tony Bamford, who is representing three of the original defendants, including Jones, said the judgment was significant, but there was "a range of possible ramifications and issues" arising from it.

"Obviously it means the scope of the trial is narrowed simply because the number of charges have been significantly reduced and the number of defendants that are likely to go to trial as result of this judgment have been reduced also.

"It's going to shorten the process, but at this stage that's probably all I can say," Bamford said.

The eight remaining defendants are Terry Jones (11 charges); Grant Hayward (3 charges); Damian Stacey (1 charge); Glen Thompson (3 charges); Robert Stewart (6 charges); Natalie Busch (5 charges); Taylor Antonievic (1 charge); and Glyn Rutledge (1 charge).

The trial is set to commence on May 4 and four weeks have been allocated.

 - The Nelson Mail

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