Detective sacked after seven-year inquiry into police links to 'powerful drugs baron'

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The Independent Online

A seven-year inquiry into links between a man accused of being one of Britain's most powerful drug barons and the police ended yesterday with one officer being sacked and another having his pay docked.

Detective Sergeant Ian Weedon was found guilty by a police board of a series of disciplinary offences after an investigation was launched into his relationship with Brian Charrington, who police in the UK, France and Germany believe is an international drugs smuggler.

Charrington, 46, a former second-hand car dealer from Middlesbrough, was nicknamed the "Teflon Don" after he walked free from three criminal trials in Britain, the first two of which involved accusations of smuggling millions of pounds worth of drugs in to the UK, and the third where he was accused of obtaining secret police information.

Mr Weedon, who has been sacked from Cleveland Police, was Charrington's former handler. The 47-year-old officer has been suspended since 1997. Last year he was charged, along with two other Cleveland police officers and Charrington, with an alleged conspiracy to obtain sensitive information held by the police. He had been accused of providing Charrington with details of a criminal who owed the alleged drug smuggler £45,000.

The case collapsed at Leeds Crown Court after a judge ruled that key evidence obtained from a telephone tap was inadmissible under legislation passed since the device was used. Mr Weedon's co-accused were Detective Constable Paul Hardy, 43, the second officer to be punished for disciplinary offences by the police board yesterday, and former Detective Sergeant James McSorley, 54, who retired in 1999.

A statement issued yesterday by Cleveland Police said: "Following the completion of ... an investigation that began in 1996 into alleged corruption within Cleveland Police and links with a known drug smuggler, two police officers have appeared before a disciplinary hearing at force headquarters.

"A detective constable who admitted two offences - improper disclosure of information and being an accessory to a discipline offence - was fined a total of 18 days' pay.

"A detective sergeant denied nine offences relating to disobedience of orders, falsehood and prevarication, discreditable conduct and improper disclosure of information. He was found guilty of eight, one was not proved and he was dismissed from the force."

The police and customs have long believed Charrington has direct links with the Colombian cocaine cartels.

The link between Mr Weedon and Charrington emerged in 1993 when the Middlesbrough businessman faced drugs charges at Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court. A consignment of 1,000kg of cocaine hidden in metal ingots and with a street value of £150m was intercepted by customs officers in Stoke-on-Trent. Charrington and the Liverpudlian drugs trafficker Curtis "Cocky" Warren were arrested after detectives found £2m in bank notes with traces of drugs in Charrington's loft.

But the case collapsed when Det Sgt Weedon and his colleague, Det Insp Harry Knaggs, revealed that Charrington had been working as a police informer - which customs were unaware of.

In 1996 an inquiry, codenamed Operation Teak and overseen by the Police Complaints Authority, was set up to investigate the relationship between Charrington and Cleveland officers.

Charrington's second acquittal also came in 1996. Police believed he was planning to smuggle four tons of hashish worth £80m into the West Country by ship. His vessel, the Simon de Danser, was stopped off the coast of Portugal by customs and the Royal Marines and Charrington was arrested. But the trial collapsed at Bristol Crown Court in 1999 when the judge ruled that customs had boarded the ship illegally.

Charrington then returned to Spain. During that time, he was sentenced in his absence in France to two years in prison for drugs offences.

Attempts to have him extradited from Spain to Britain failed, but he was arrested in Devon in September 2001. He had sneaked back in to the UK for fear that he was about to be deported from Spain to Germany to face drugs charges.

He was back in the dock in Leeds Crown Court last year with the three police officers accused of conspiracy to obtain sensitive police information - the detectives were accused of providing sensitive information from police computer files - charges they all denied. The trial collapsed.

After the trial, Charrington remained in the UK and began an extradition battle with the German authorities. But in December he was sent to Germany, where he now faces charges involving alleged cocaine smuggling.