How much is a brick of cocaine? How about a rock of crack? Matthew Atha has the answers
Meet Merseyside’s illegal drug whisperer
Dear members — if you get arrested for managing a cannabis farm, Matthew Atha is the guy to call. With decades of experience as an expert witness in court cases, Atha specialises in the field of illegal drugs. When a lawyer dials his number, he might tasked with turning up and setting the record straight on how much a shipment of heroin was really worth, if perhaps the prosecution are trying to inflate the numbers. Or maybe a thief caught in the act was unknowingly spiked with LSD, and Atha can come in and prove it. Dressed in a fedora with his distinctive goatee, we went to meet the man himself, and he gave us a glimpse into the underworld.
Editor’s note: We’re only 50 or so members away from hitting 1000 and we can’t wait to get there. This edition, as has become customary on Thursdays, is paywalled part the way down. If you want enjoy the lot (or indeed if you’re a smack dealer looking to glean some insights from the brain of the drugs whisperer) then you’ll have to sign up as a paying member. By doing that you’ll not only be getting access to all of our content, but you’ll also be supporting us in our mission to provide high-quality, clickbait-free journalism for the entire city region. Go on — treat yourself.
Your Post briefing
Thomas Cashman, the man accused of killing 9-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel last summer, has taken to the stand in his trial. Cashman became emotional in court while giving evidence, saying: “I'm getting blamed for killing a child and I have got my own children. I'm a dad, I'm not a killer.” He argues he was counting £10,000 in cash and smoking a spliff while a gunman chasing convicted burglar Joseph Nee burst into the Korbel family home shooting at his target, and accidentally firing at Olivia. On Tuesday, Cashman admitted he was a “high level” cannabis dealer but was with a friend on the night in question. He said that when he emerged into the garden later in the evening he could hear sirens and was told there were "police everywhere". Earlier in the trial, jurors had heard from a woman who had a brief relationship with Cashman, who alleged he had gone to her house after the killing. She said he changed clothes and she heard him say he’d “done Joey”. Cashman claimed the woman was jealous that he wouldn’t leave his partner for her and that her boyfriend owed him £25,000 so she wanted him “out of the way”.
Liverpool City Council paid an unnecessary £2 million after failing to renew its electricity contract properly, according to a new report. Mistakes made last year meant the council — as well as other public institutions like schools — wound up with a more expensive tariff. Moreover, it has already signed off to reimburse local schools more than £2.3 million over the blunder. Overall, “between April 2022 to March 2023, Liverpool City Council will pay £24m for its electricity, rather than an expected £19m,” according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA) has been accused of being “institutionally racist”. A report published two years ago by legal firm Hill Dickinson came to light during an employment tribunal hearing over whether claims made by an academic who had worked for the institute — which provides university-level courses including acting, theatre, dance and music — could proceed to a full hearing. The academic, who is black, alleges she was discriminated against “because of her race and sex”. Hill Dickinson investigated the grievance and found LIPA to be “institutionally racist”. The institute had faced public criticism in 2020 when its co-founder Mark Featherstone-Witty tweeted that “every life matters” following the killing of George Floyd.
⛪️ With the sun (very tentatively) rearing its head over the past few days, perhaps head to everyone’s favourite hollow church (the Bombed Out Church) on Saturday afternoon for their vinyl record fair, complete with garden food stands and a wide array of drinks.
🤸 The British Gymnastics championships are in Liverpool over the weekend, running from today until Sunday. There’s loads of different events to choose from, so if you fancy watching pommelers pommel or vaulters vault, take a look here.
🎭 The Royal Court trains their sights on the Scouse zeitgeist with a play about a man who harps on about “truth and freedom” and the dangers of 5G. Cosmic, which you can catch all weekend (and up until 8th April) taps into the Cosmic Scouser trend. We’ll be going along to watch it. Buy tickets here.
How much is a brick of cocaine? How about a rock of crack and a bag of heroin? Matthew Atha has the answer
Although the specifics have become a little hazy with time, Matthew Atha will never forget his despair when a defendant he worked with was jailed. It was the mid-90s and a young man — barely out of his teens — was in the dock in Leicester Crown Court, on trial for possessing cannabis with intent to supply. Atha, a drugs expert hired by defence lawyers, hoped to show that his man was not a hardened criminal but rather a stoner growing a few ounces of weed for his own stash. Atha was unsuccessful, and recalls with sorrow the moment his man was found guilty. “It was a huge blow. I felt really, really devastated for the lad. I did all I could for him.” He watched as the defendant was led away upon sentencing, his girlfriend heartbroken.
Atha, 64, is a curiosity in the legal system. He’s an expert witness, the term for specialists hired by lawyers to discuss evidence in court. Atha’s field is illegal drugs, and he is now perhaps the only expert witness in his area who is not a former police officer. As the founder of the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit, whose offices are in the Georgian Quarter, Atha is contracted by lawyers, mostly to argue that their client’s alleged offences are less severe than what the prosecution claims.
It might be that a defendant is accused of trafficking heroin, and his legal team disputes the police estimate of the shipment’s value. Or that a convicted cocaine dealer is ordered to pay a fine under the Proceeds of Crime Act, but there is a disagreement over how much money he might have made in his illicit career. Or that a robber says he was unknowingly spiked with LSD and was not responsible for any subsequent light-fingered activity. That’s where Atha comes in. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the drug trade makes him an authority on the subject, and over the course of his 30-year career he has assisted on 3,300 cases. The Post took him out for dragon rolls at A Sushi Bar on Myrtle Street to hear some of his insights into this murky world.
We meet outside: Atha wears a nifty fedora and a Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt. We find a table, and his gravelly voice fills the restaurant as it empties after the lunchtime rush. Submerging his sushi in a bath of soy sauce and dispensing with chopsticks to go in with his hands, he goes over old cases. There are ones he remembers (the fallout from an attempted shipment of 394 kg of cocaine apparently destined for Ireland) and the ones he would rather forget (an amphetamine-using thief, who once convicted, died by suicide in prison).