The strange case of the Home Secretary and the drug dealers. Was he tricked?

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The Independent Online
The two drugs dealers who sparked an outcry over their early release fooled the authorities by tipping off Customs & Excise about a cache of their own illegal weapons, according to underworld sources.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, came under a welter of criticism at the weekend for agreeing to a judge's request for 18-year sentences on John Haase and Paul Bennett to be cut to just five in return for co- operating with the authorities. It was widely assumed the move was because they had supplied high-level information about the so-called pounds 15 million "Turkish connection" heroin-smuggling ring in Liverpool.

But the criminal world believes that after their arrest on heroin trafficking charges, Haase, 46, and Bennett, 32, perpetrated an elaborate confidence trick by alerting Customs to a consignment of Kalashnikovs and Armalites which they had purchased themselves out the proceeds of drug deals.

Key elements of this version of events have been backed up by a security source.

Sources said yesterday that far from behaving like informers or "supergrasses" in fear of their lives, they had openly returned to Liverpool after being released on parole last month.

Haase and Bennett were arrested in 1993 after Bennett, a married man, dropped a girlfriend when she began using heroin.

The woman informed on him to a Merseyside police detective constable.

On remand in prison, Haase and Bennett are said to have demanded to speak to Customs, figuring they might have a better chance of avoiding a lengthy jail term than if they tried to negotiate with the police. They promised Customs they would supply information about a container of weapons on board a ship heading for Liverpool. The ship was already in Liverpool docks, the container's door protected with bags of Semtex.

Bomb disposal experts blew the doors off, revealing 50 weapons and some heroin. Haase and Bennett then provided further addresses where more firearms and heroin could be found.

They suggested that they had helped expose an arms network that was supplying the IRA.

But sources insisted yesterday that they had betrayed no big-time drugs dealer, either British or Turkish. Neither Customs nor the Home Office were prepared to comment yesterday on the usefulness of the information the pair may have given.

The pair had turned down offers of protection and help to start new lives away from Merseyside.

The first that the trial judge at Liverpool Crown Court, Judge David Lynch, knew about any help they may have given was when he received a Customs report following the 1995 trial.

Haase and Bennett had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin, along with Edward Croker, their first lieutenant.

Haase and Bennett received 18 years and each had pounds 840,000 confiscated.

Croker was jailed for 14 years and had pounds 110,000 confiscated. Yilmaz Kaya, 20, was jailed for 20 years and had pounds 200,000 confiscated. Four other Turks were jailed for between four and 14 years for related offences.

The judge had emphasised the need for heavy sentences, but after receiving the Customs report, he wrote to Mr Howard requesting authorisation to cut the jail term to five years.

Mr Howard insisted at the weekend that it was an exceptional case in which the judge had asked him to put right what he had not been able to do in court.

With parole and two years already served on remand, the pair were released after serving less than a year of their sentence. They were spotted in Liverpool last week.