Fisherman murder case: police say lack of evidence behind charges

Three men are on trial for murdering commercial fisherman Patrick Arbery on 18 October 2015 off the southern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr Arbery was the victim of a gangland slaying that has shocked the regional fishing community and has put millions of dollars in potential revenue at risk.

Of the six men initially charged, three were acquitted, one is awaiting a verdict and the other will go on trial in early November.

Senior police officer Brian McCue told the BBC Crime and Punishment Unit: “Lack of evidence is the case in this case.”

Gangland crime in the province is a relatively new phenomenon, and tends to attract international attention.

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A 12-month investigation into Mr Arbery’s murder led to searches in various locations across Newfoundland and Labrador, including Woodbridge.

Gangs turn to fishing

People sometimes equate fishing with poverty, but the industry is worth billions of dollars globally.

In the province, in particular, it is one of the most lucrative – worth tens of millions of dollars in landed value alone – and attracts global investors.

A member of the Arbery family is one of the key players in the fishing business, working in waters extending into up to three and a half miles (five and a halfkm) out at sea.

However, the Arbery family has long been known for providing false documents to the US government to use to enter the country.

Interpol issued a red notice for the elder Mr Arbery after he was accused of tax evasion on the grounds that his mother did not declare a large share of their US income on their US tax returns.

The brothers, Patrick, Joel and Jeremy Arbery, are all accused of involvement in that conspiracy, all six were charged with first-degree murder.

Their alleged involvement in the infamous Oceanport murders of five men in the village of Oceanport – also involving Mr Arbery’s codename “Paid” – was key to their continued detention.

Mr Arbery’s brother James Arbery, who was not originally charged in the case, was convicted in late 2017 of playing a central role in helping his younger brothers, who all deny having anything to do with the murder, flee the scene of the crime and avoid apprehension.

After another 10 months of investigation, along with the main suspect Alexandre Arbery, 22, an investigation led to charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

“When you make cases of this nature [or] something like this, [it] takes a long time [because] people tend to not come forward, people do not agree with the evidence and things like that,” said Insp Brian McCue.

“‘Paid’ is a codename used by police here for certain informants and assets. The person that gives it to you must be shown the same information and documents the informants’ used to be able to gain access to that, if they are a government informant and police informer.

“That’s very much part of the nature of this particular case.”

Sabotage remains a mainstay in organised crime, and fishermen in the region have been found to be involved in illegal processing of fish.

Despite improved enforcement, equipment frauds and other money-making irregularities still tend to be part of fishing’s inherent mix, which makes small-scale deterrence such as the media attention generated by the Arbery case very difficult.

‘Jackpot’ killing linked to drugs trade

In his review of legal provisions for gangland murder, Queen’s University criminologist Mark Brayley said, “It is highly likely a number of people played a part [in the Arbery case] and implicated others.

“The evidence indicates a very strong link between the Arbery killing and the victim’s trade.”

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The shot fired by a masked gunman at the back of Mr Arbery’s van has been described as the “jackpot” hit – a term which is linked to the “star” of the Oceanport murders.

Mr Brayley suggested that the killing may have been connected to Mr Arbery’s trading, which involved fish from illegal processors – probably at the now defunct Coal Harbour fish market in Newfoundland.

In his final major dive in the case, Mr Brayley wrote: “There seems little prospect of the present charges being successfully challenged on the basis of insufficient evidence.

“The comments made by one of the alleged multiple murderers, who said Patrick Arbery’s murder was a ‘semi-done job’, are the strongest evidence yet that members of the Arbery family have been involved in a criminal conspiracy.

“Though no deal has been made with the media to conceal the identity of other people involved in the

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