PC gets 10 years for drug smuggling

Corrupt officer is jailed as police continue to feel fall-out from Bridgewater case
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The Independent Online
A police officer who was cleared of serious drugs-related corruption charges following a marathon inquiry into allegations against Stoke Newington police in north London, was yesterday jailed for 10 years for his part in a pounds 2m cannabis smuggling operation.

Constable Ronald Palumbo, 31, of Chingford, east London, was described by Judge Giles Rooke TD, QC, as a "lieutenant" in the smuggling ring which operated between England and Spain and involved Palumbo's father-in-law, Kenneth Harris, 43, of Welling, south-east London; John Illingworth, 39, of Greenwich, south-east London; and David Ng, 37, also of London. The four were jailed yesterday for a total of 41 years.

The court was told that a large quantity of cannabis was found hidden in the trailer of a lorry owned by Harris, stopped at Dover docks in November 1995. James Vine, prosecuting, said: "Four trips had been made by this lorry and trailer during the latter half of 1995 and Harris was the organiser of the whole enterprise.

"Palumbo, a serving police officer, travelled out on all four trips, usually returning by air. On the first of the trips Palumbo went in the cab of the lorry being driven by Ng. Trip two, Palumbo and Harris flew from London to Spain returning two days later," he said.

"On the third trip Palumbo again flew out of London with Harris, again staying in Spain for two days, and on the fourth and final trip Palumbo flew to Spain with Ng. Illingworth was the driver on the final three trips."

The court heard that on two of the four trips either Palumbo or Ng travelled out to Calais on the 1am boat to meet the lorry on its return to England.

"It would of course be very important to the smugglers to know if their goods had been detected by customs and what better way of finding out than by discreetly travelling on the same ferry back as their load and waiting to see if it emerged from the docks," Mr Vine said.

"Being Harris's son-in-law and as a serving policeman Palumbo is the last person that a drugs organisation would want within a million miles of their operation. It needed a number of people who could be trusted implicitly by the organiser - so who better than your own son-in-law," he said.

Illingworth and Ng said they had had no idea that drugs were involved.

Palumbo told the court that he joined the police force in 1986 and was posted to Stoke Newington Police Station and after passing exams was accepted into the crime squad. He was transferred to Lime House Police Station around 1992.

"In June 1992 I was suspended after allegations of corruption were made into the circumstances of the arrest I made of a crack cocaine dealer. I stood trial in November 1995 and was acquitted of the charge," Palumbo said.

He told the court that during his suspension from 1992 to 1995 he was stressed and on medication because of the impending proceedings, and was asked by Harris to go on the trips to Spain so he could get away from it all.

Palumbo said: "I agreed to go on the trips for a break. I have been used by Harris. I had nothing to do with the drugs. If I had known about the drugs I would have told someone."

Jailing the four men, Judge Rooke told Palumbo: "You are what's known as a `bent copper' in an otherwise honourable force."

The charges against Palumbo at Stoke Newington were for perjury involving fabricating evidence against people on drugs charges.

They formed part of the Operation Jackpot inquiry in 1992, which was set up to investigate alleged corrupt practice, theft and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.