Boxing: Olympian held over '£12,000 cocaine stash'

Police question Bradley Saunders after sniffer dogs find haul in his garden
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The Independent Online

The Olympic boxer Bradley Saunders has been arrested on suspicion of drug dealing. A police sniffer dog found what was believed to be an estimated £12,000 of cocaine in the back garden of Mr Saunders' semi-detached home in Cragside, Sedgefield, Co Durham.

The boxer was taken away for questioning at Spennymoor police station along with his girlfriend, Stephanie Elliot. The couple, who are both 22, have a two-year-old son who is thought not to have been at home at the time of the arrest.

They were held overnight but later released on police bail pending further inquiries, a Durham Constabulary spokesman said. Mr Saunders has denied any involvement with drugs.

The sniffer dog alerted police to a tin containing more than 300g of white powder, which was sent away for analysis. One gram of cocaine usually has street value of between £40 and £60. It is thought that police received a tip-off from a local resident in the affluent village.

Speaking from his parents' home in Cragside, Mr Saunders said: "It was about midday; I'd been out for a run and had gone back to bed to watch TV with Stephanie.

"All of a sudden the police were at the door. There was about seven of them, at least, and a dog. They said they had a warrant. I shouted to Stephanie to go with some of them while I kept an eye on the others.

"They'd finished going through my house and they were on their way out when they went through to the back garden. I'm having the house done up and the back garden is being stripped. Right next to the back gate was a sheet of white plastic, like a bin bag, and when they lifted it up underneath was a tin laid on the grass. They opened it up said, 'What's this powder?'

"We were handcuffed and arrested and taken to Spennymoor police station, where we were locked up in a cell for six hours. Stephanie was in the cell next to me. I saw the duty solicitor and had to make a statement but there was not a lot I could say. Then I was released without charge and have been released on police bail until next year. They told me they'd had an anonymous telephone tip-off," he added. "There was never anything in that garden. I know nothing about any drugs. I have never had a criminal record, I've never been done for drugs.

"My parents are devastated. My mum is very upset.

"I earn a decent living and have been getting paid since I was 13 years old for boxing. There is no reason for me to be involved in drugs. People get jealous. They can take against you."

Mr Saunders was considered a major disappointment at the Beijing Games, where he suffered a shock quarter-final defeat to a French boxer, Alexis Vastine. His prior victory in the International Boxing Association's President's Cup in Taiwan had led many pundits to describe him as one of the sport's brightest prospects.

After his defeat in Beijing, he said: "It's a weight off my shoulders: training, boxing, the weight of not seeing my little boy. I want to live a local boy's life now. I'm very disappointed. I'm looking forward to getting back to my family."

An neighbour of Mr Saunders was quoted in The Northern Echo as saying: "I was out when the police came, but plenty of people saw them going into the house and garden with sniffer dogs. I only hope it isn't true. It will be sad if someone who could be a role model was charged with drugs offences."