Three members of a drug-smuggling crime group who flew millions of pounds worth of cocaine into the UK have been given prison sentences totalling 66 years.
An investigation by the National Crime Agency, supported by North Yorkshire Police, began after Border Force staff examined a light aircraft which had landed at Breighton Aerodrome near Selby on Monday 17 November 2014.
In the plane and in the boot of a Porsche Cayenne parked next to it they discovered bags and suitcases loaded with 34 kilos of cocaine. If cut and sold in the UK the drugs would have had a potential likely street value of £5 million.
Pilot Andrew Wright, 52, from Barlow in North Yorkshire was arrested at the scene.
NCA officers tracked his route and found that he had picked up the cocaine from a private airfield in Kassel, central Germany. They discovered that since 1 September 2014 Wright had made another seven trips.
Investigations uncovered evidence that Wright had been assisted by Jamie Williams, 38, from Upminster, Essex. Williams was subsequently arrested as part of a separate investigation involving the Metropolitan Police and NCA. During a search of his house officers discovered more drugs, cash, a gun and ammunition.
Mark Dowling, 43, from Brentwood in Essex was the last to be identified and arrested by NCA investigators. He was detained in Hutton, Essex, making a handover of 19 kilos of cannabis to drug dealer David Rowe, 57, from Hoddesdon, Herts, in June 2015.
At Dowling’s home officers found a further 12.5 kilos of cocaine worth an estimated £1.8 million, 23.5 kilos of cannabis worth £155,000, and a drugs ledger showing that he had been responsible for arranging cocaine shipments totalling more than a quarter of a tonne from the Netherlands, worth a potential £37 million once cut and adulterated to street-level purity, selling them on to distributors in the UK. It also listed payments made to Williams and Wright, nicknamed “Biggles” by his co-conspirators, for their involvement.
All three pleaded guilty to conspiring to import class A drugs. Dowling also admitted money laundering charges and supplying class A drugs, while Williams admitted supplying class A drugs and possessing a firearm.
At the Old Bailey today (Tuesday 9 February 2016) a judge sentenced Dowling to 24 years in prison, Wright to 19 years and Williams to 23 years.
Rowe was given an 18 month sentence for possessing cannabis with intent to supply.
Detective Constable Pete Wakefield, North Yorkshire Police’s Special Branch Ports Officer, said:
Andrew Wright was stopped at Breighton Aerodrome bringing a significant amount of cocaine into North Yorkshire.
Although people may think that we are a quiet, rural county, this case goes to show that serious and organised crime does happen here and Wright’s arrest prevented a large quantity of Class A drugs making it onto the streets.
High-level crime does not observe borders, which is why it is important that Special Branch and the NCA work in partnership to combat organised crime and protect our international borders and ports.
While small airfields like Breighton may not appear to be obvious places for organised crime groups to operate, our aviation vigilance campaign – Project Pegasus – exists to encourage people to look out for suspicious activity around these small ports and contact the police on 101 if they see anything unusual.
Mick Maloney, head of the NCA’s north east border investigation team, said:
This crime group ran an organised operation, utilising the piloting skills of Andrew Wright to import large amounts of cocaine.
Wright’s previous trips to and from Germany point to him being a professional courier, trusted by his fellow criminals with transporting their drugs.
We were able to prove that Dowling was head of the organised crime group, responsible for a series of shipments. Williams worked alongside him and would have played a key role in getting these drugs onto the streets.
With valuable help from our colleagues in the Metropolitan Police, North Yorkshire Police, Border Force and the authorities in Germany we have dismantled a significant criminal enterprise.
Two other men were also given prison sentences for their links to the crime group.
Vygantas Gaidamavicuius, 40, of no fixed abode was jailed for 18 months for money laundering offences in November 2015 following a trial at the Old Bailey.
Vincent Vassallo, 61, from Tower Hamlets, London admitted money laundering charges and was sentenced to nine months in December 2015.
In 2014 Border Force, the NCA and UK police forces launched Project Pegasus, a multi-agency campaign encouraging people living and working close to small airports to report unusual activity associated with general aviation.
General aviation includes aircraft such as microlights, helicopters, and business jets, and activities such as aerial surveys, deliveries, corporate flights and leisure flying.