Businessman in animal rights row denies smuggling £22m of cocaine

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The Independent Online

A businessman who was at the centre of animal rights protests over his export of live calves has appeared in court accused of plotting to smuggle cocaine worth £22m into Britain.

Christopher Barrett-Jolley, 55, the former head of an aviation company, pleaded not guilty yesterday to importing 271kg (597lb) of cocaine to Southend airport, Essex, last year.

Mr Barrett-Jolley is the former head of Phoenix Aviation, which ran a controversial veal export business from Baginton airport in Warwickshire during the 1990s.

Jill Phipps, 31, an animal rights activist, was crushed to death by a lorry at one of the protests against Mr Barrett-Jolley's trade in 1995. An inquest found that Ms Phipps had died accidentally.

Mr Barrett-Jolley, from Somerset, appeared at Basildon Crown Court with his two co-accused – his brother-in-law Peter Carine, 49, from Henshall, North Yorkshire, and Martin Lake, 60, from Storrington, West Sussex. The pair also denied smuggling the drug, which was alleged to have been imported between August and October last year.

The men were arrested after Customs officers found cocaine in five suitcases. All three were remanded in custody and are due for trial on 9 September.

Phoenix Aviation's trade in veal attracted national attention and was criticised by leading church figures including the Right Rev Dr Richard Llewellin, the Bishop of Dover.

But Mr Barrett-Jolley said at the time: "I am a churchgoer and I can't see anything morally wrong with what I do. I abhor cruelty and anyone who thinks it through would realise that animals which are abused don't fare well. There is an awful lot of hot air about this subject. Very few of the protesters know what they are talking about and neither, it seems, does the Bishop of Dover."

But the veal exporter received a measure of support from the Conservative agriculture minister William Waldegrave, who criticised the animal rights activists in a speech to the National Farmers' Union in February 1995. Mr Waldegrave said: "Do not believe that the violent elements would stop with improved welfare for calves or animals in transport."

Phoenix Aviation suffered a setback in 1994 after five people died when one of the returning veal flights crashed into woods near Baginton airport. Verdicts of accidental death were recorded on the three Algerian crew members and two British stock handlers. The company went out of business in July 1995.

Mr Barrett-Jolley, who lived in an old rectory opposite the village church in Frankton, near Rugby in Warwickshire, before he moved to Somerset, said the closure of his business was decided purely for economic reasons.