Tragic tale of wasted talent ends in four-year jail sentence

Substance abuse: Police chief attacks glamorisation of heroin as a violinist says addiction drove her to crime
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The Independent Online
A TALENTED VIOLINIST who was promised pounds 5,000 to smuggle more than three kilogrammes of cocaine into Britain from Brazil was jailed for four years yesterday.

Hannah Thompson, 25, who tried to bring in the drugs hidden under toys in her baggage, was a semi-finalist in the 1992 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition.

The daughter of a Roman Catholic deacon, Thompson was promised the money for bringing in the 3.18kg consignment, worth almost pounds 500,000, from Brazil last November. After her arrest she agreed to help Customs investigators catch the "callous, cunning and unscrupulous" trafficker, Benneth Iwenofu, Isleworth Crown Court in west London was told.

Iwenofu, an illegal immigrant from Nigeria, was convicted of smuggling and jailed for 14 years after Thompson gave evidence against him.

Thompson, of Southall, west London, seemed dazed as Judge David Miller told her it was so sad to see a woman of her "undoubted talent" become "hopelessly addicted to drugs - not only to cannabis, but LSD, ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines". In addition, he said, she "became an alcoholic".

With her father and other members of her family listening from the packed public gallery, the judge continued: "Your living conditions were such that you were reduced to busking to obtain money.

"It seems to me that your life is an example of the incredible harm that drugs can do to promising young people."

The judge said, however, that he was able to make "very substantial reductions" in her sentence because she had faced up to matters, pleaded guilty to smuggling and given evidence for the prosecution.

"In addition, I reduce the sentence further because of your vulnerable condition when you were recruited and because you were in contact and associating with thoroughly evil, undesirable people."

Sentencing Iwenofu, the judge said there were others besides the Nigerian involved in smuggling the consignment.

"But you organised this importation in that you recruited the vulnerable young woman Hannah Thompson to be a courier and you financed her."

Once the drugs were in Britain, Iwenofu did his best to distance himself from them by asking a mini-cab driver to pick them up, the judge said. The driver was also charged with smuggling and had to stand trial, although he was acquitted.

The judge added that he was recommending Iwenofu be deported immediately on his release from prison.

Thompson had told the jury how she started taking drugs at 18 after leaving one of the country's leading Roman Catholic schools for girls, St Anthony's at Leweston, in Dorset. After teaching in Africa, she returned to Britain to study geography at King's College, London. But she dropped out after a year and, after busking to fund further travel, began a relationship with a man in his fifties.

Her drug problem deteriorated when the man was jailed on a cannabis charge. Thompson began drinking heavily and became anorexic. She owed pounds 7,000 in a grant and student loans and last summer lost her driving licence for drink-driving. By that time she had met Iwenofu, 40, a cleaner in an illegal central-London drinking den. He bought her cocaine and asked her to smuggle drugs - first cannabis from South Africa, then the cocaine from South America. She said she "had no choice".

After flying to Sao Paolo, via Zurich, she spent a week in a hotel taking drugs and drink provided by men in the smuggling operation. One of them put the drugs under a pile of toys in her bag. But British Customs learnt what she was carrying and secretly travelled with her to Heathrow, where she was followed to a friend's address in west London and arrested.

Michael Morris, for the defence, said Thompson wanted others to learn from her story. "She hopes ... it will prevent somebody else from destroying their life in the way she has."

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