Addicted violinist forced into smuggling

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The Independent Online
A PROMISING violinist and former BBC Young Musician of the Year semi-finalist was caught smuggling nearly pounds 500,000 of Brazilian cocaine to fund her own drug addiction, a court heard yesterday.

Hannah Thompson, 25, a violin semi-finalist in 1992, became a mule for a drugs gang after drink and drugs shattered her self-esteem and crippling student loans meant she could not even afford to repair her recording equipment.

It all went wrong for the former convent schoolgirl when she was caught by customs officers bringing back 3.18 kilograms of cocaine in her luggage from Sao Paolo through Heathrow airport. Isleworth Crown Court heard that when she was arrested, Miss Thompson agreed to lead undercover officers to the three members of a Nigerian drug gang who had sent her on the trip.

Miss Thompson has admitted drug smuggling and has agreed to give evidence against the alleged drugs bosses who lured her into crime.

The court heard that Hannah had been taking drugs since she was 18, but her problems escalated when she dropped out of a geography course at Kings College, University of London, after a year.

She enrolled on a music, technology and recording course at Kingston College in 1996. However, her use of LSD, crack cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine escalated and she became increasingly depressed, with student debts of pounds 7,500.

Miss Thompson agreed that her lifestyle had become "chaotic" and she was suffering from acute depression, anorexia and alcoholism.

She thought she had no chance of gaining a steady job when she left music college. She said: "I was really terrified of leaving. I thought no one was going to employ me. I thought if I don't get a job, how am I going to pay back the loans."

The court heard that a solution emerged when she met Nigerian Benneth Iwenofu, 40, who worked as a cleaner at an illegal drinking club she frequented. He offered her pounds 5,000 to bring back cocaine from South America.

Iwenofu, known as Ben, and his wife, Nonoyem, 32, bought a ticket for Hannah to fly to Sao Paolo via Zurich, before flying back to Heathrow, it is alleged. Customs were already on Hannah's trail when she came back through Heathrow on 22 November last year, and arrested her just hours later at a friend's house - with the drugs hidden beneath toys in a blue holdall.

The court heard that Hannah, of Southall, west London, then led them to another member of the gang, Uju Obionwu, 43, when he came to collect the drugs for Ben. The husband and wife were themselves arrested hours later.

Ben and his wife, from Catford, and Obionwu, from Stratford, deny one count of drug smuggling. The trial continues.