Cocaine in stomach kills drugs 'mule'

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The Independent Online

A woman believed to be one of the rising number of west African women who act as "mules" to smuggle drugs into Britain, died with 61 bags of cocaine in her stomach after being found outside a London hospital , police revealed yesterday.

The woman was found in agony outside St Helier Hospital in Sutton. A passer-by called a porter who helped her into the hospital but she died an hour later.

Detective Inspector Mike Smith, of Sutton CID, appealed yesterday for help in identifying the woman. "She was wearing no jewellery and we believe it had been removed from her before she was found, as she also had no identification papers or other documentation whatsoever with her.

"The woman was in a great deal of pain but managed to give us some information. It's possible her name was Mary Kofi, born on 27 April, in either 1957 or 1947. We are unsure if this was correct and are aware that Kofi is a very common name in Ghana."

Detectives believe she may have arrived flight BA78 from Ghana the day she was found - 29 May - or via Amsterdam and appealed for anyone who may have seen her to come forward.

She was described as 5 ft 10in tall and heavy set with wavy black hair that appeared to have extensions with slight red tints. She was wearing very distinctive clothing including a handkerchief bearing a logo "Argent Swallow" with Chinese writing underneath.

"It's likely she was picked up at some point and dropped at the hospital once she became ill," said Det Insp Smith. "We have not been able to confirm her intended destination. She might have been going anywhere in London, or even the UK."

A post-mortem examination revealed she had swallowed 61 packages of a substance believed to be cocaine. While the exact cause of death is still to be confirmed, she may have died because the packages blocked her intestines. Other mules have died after packets burst.

Customs officials spent hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting the problem of drug-smuggling from Jamaica over the past three years only to find that the trade has shifted to Africa.

Sylvia Gerrish, of Hibiscus - a charity helping foreign women - said recently: "The number of Nigerian women [being used as mules] has gone through the roof. Our biggest concern is there is no real way for us to deal with the families and children left behind as it is very hard to find the appropriate agencies."

John Whyte, head of HM Revenue and Customs for the London area said: "What we have seen over the past few months is a large increase in drugs from west Africa, directly to the UK."

Almost 3.5 per cent of Britain's jail population - 2,542 - are foreigners incarcerated for drugs offences, a tenth of whom are women.