john vasey

Jailed trucker John Vasey is an innocent fall guy for ruthless drug barons, a Tyneside lawyer claimed today.

Newcastle-based Clive McKeag has been recruited to fight for the freedom of Vasey who is being held in France.

But he said he feared his client will still be found guilty of drug smuggling because of a Euro law.

Mr McKeag spoke exclusively to the Chronicle after Vasey’s family was told he would stand trial next month, 14 months after his arrest.

Vasey, 43, of Lambton Village, Washington, has protested his innocence ever since he was arrested on March 1 last year after cannabis worth £2.5m was discovered in sealed containers of cargo he had collected in Barcelona.

As well as his wife Emma, family and friends, he has been backed by fellow truckers who say he had no idea what was hidden in the load.

His mother, Mary, 69, said at the time of her son’s arrest that the suspect goods were in sealed boxes on two shrink-wrapped pallets and John had no knowledge of the contents.

Mr McKeag, who was taken on by the family to help a French advocate representing Vasey, said: "I have read all the documents and statements relating to the case and firmly believe that he was duped and was the fall guy in the operation.

"It was by chance that he was driving the lorry because the original driver called in to say his mother was ill and Mr Vasey had to take his place.

"He was told he was picking up a consignment of ceramics. The consignment was on shrink-wrapped pallets tied with special tape put on by machine and therefore very difficult to take off.

"He wouldn’t have been able to check to see what was in it because if he tampered with it by opening it, the consignment would not have been accepted at its destination.

"What is extraordinary is that the French authorities have made no investigations into the place where the consignment was picked up in Barcelona.

"The great difficulty, legally, is that because of a recent European law the driver has sole responsibility for the contents of the consignment.

“Even if the judges accept Mr Vasey’s version their hands will be tied by the ruling and, unfortunately, it may come down to what sentence they can give.”

Under the French legal system the trial will before three judges who will consider statements and documents, then hear arguments from the prosecution and defence.

Vasey, who has a nine-year-old son, David, will not be allowed to speak or call witnesses and the judges are expected to announce their decision the same day.

Four months ago Vasey’s latest petition for bail to the High Court in Montpelier was thrown out.

Earlier last year supporters travelled to the French Embassy in London to meet the French Charge d’Affaires.

The French Government has been given a file on the family’s campaign which is backed by Joyce Quin, MP for Gateshead East and Washington West.

Mr McKeag hopes to accompany the family when they fly out for the trial.