70-year-olds 'helped flood Britain with cannabis'

Two pensioners helped to flood Britain with millions of pounds of cannabis disguised as frozen chicken imports, a court heard today.

The consignments, which originated in Holland, were shipped to a bonded meat warehouse in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

London's Southwark Crown Court was told the gang lost little time collecting the pallets and delivering them to a haulage and storage company in Grays, Essex.

Andrew Marshall, prosecuting, said the next stage was to "very quickly distribute" the Class B contraband to customers so "the evidence disappears".

In the dock are haulier Derek Mercer, 70, Sandown Road, South Norwood, south east London, and John Rowe, also 70, of Mansford Street, Bethnal Green, east London.

They deny one count of "being knowingly concerned" in smuggling the Class B drug into Britain on or before 16 March this year.

The court heard three other men have admitted taking part.

They are Patrick Maloney, 51, of Turquand Street, Southwark, south-east London; Russ O'Cuneff, 51, of Glengarnock Avenue, Poplar, east London; and Wattie Soutter, 68, of Raymouth Road, Rotherhithe, south-east London.

Mr Marshall said police spent some time secretly tracking the gang's movements before raiding Mercer's haulage company nearly six months ago.

He said all five defendants were arrested at the scene although two other men - Anthony Fraser and Neil Mulligan - who were also allegedly involved "did a runner".

The barrister said a search of the premises uncovered 1.4 tonnes of cannabis in Mercer's warehouse "waiting for the customers".

A further 882lb (400kg) were recovered from Soutter's van, while 132lb (60kg) of the more potent "skunk" form of the drug was allegedly found in Rowe's Volvo Estate.

"That is all worth an awful lot of money, certainly millions of pounds," counsel explained.

"Even this importation alone ranks as a major one, but when you look back and see how many have gone in previously you can see really quite massive quantities of cannabis resin have been brought into the country in this way.

"It is really a significant drug smuggling enterprise."

Mr Marshall told jurors that of the two on trial only Mercer answered questions when interviewed.

The haulage company boss told officers he had been approached three weeks earlier by someone he knew only as Tony for the use of his yard for a "loading and unloading" exercise.

He maintained that after being offered £500 for his trouble, he asked if there was anything "iffy" going on, but was assured everything was above board.

"I didn't really know it was drugs, I can tell you that," he added.