'Drug baron who always delivered' is caught

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The Independent Online

A fugitive accused of masterminding one of Britain's biggest drug-smuggling operations and fixing hundreds of horse races has finally been arrested after six years on the run.

Brian Wright, 58, nicknamed "the Milkman", because he "always delivered" was seized in Marbella, southern Spain.

He was tracked down to the Costa del Sol, where he moved two years ago from Northern Cyprus, following an intelligence operation by Customs and Excise. The alleged gang leader was arrested by Spanish police on Tuesday and is being held while an extradition request from Britain is considered.

Mr Wright is accused of being the head of a 16-strong gang running one of the largest cocaine-smuggling rings to operate in Britain. It brought an estimated £360m of cocaine into the country. The millionaire gambler is also accused of using money from his alleged cocaine deals to corrupt jockeys, securing inside information on horses and fixing races.

In his heyday Mr Wright lived flamboyantly, mixing with the rich and famous, including the comedian Jim Davidson, who made him godfather to his son. The former borstal boy had his own box at Royal Ascot, owned a villa in Spain and rented several riverside apartments in central London.

Mr Wright was also investigated in 1990 over a series of dopings on British racecourses. The Jockey Club kept a file on him and, following a hearing in his absence, he was banned from race meetings and from liaising with jockeys and trainers.

Mr Wright was betting sometimes £50,000 or £100,000 a time on alleged fixed races. He bought a villa in Andalucia which he called "El Lechero" - The Milkman, his nickname. Jockeys were said to have visited him regularly in Spain, sometimes with their air-fares paid.

Mr Wright was renowned for his charm and hospitality. One jockey claimed he always carried a roll of notes with him that "would choke a donkey".

In a police interview, Dermot Browne, a former amateur champion jockey, said Mr Wright put corrupt jockeys on his payroll with bribes of up to £5,000 per race. It was later claimed during his son's trial, that Mr Wright and his associates were continually on the phone, milking their contacts for information, in a process they called "putting a race together". Twenty-four leading jockeys have been accused of being associated with Mr Wright

John Maxse, of the Jockey Club, said: "There is evidence that he was previously involved in serious incidents that defrauded the betting public, in addition to being linked to other matters of concern to the police."

As well as celebrities and champion jockeys, Mr Wright was closely associated with several notorious gangsters, including the drugs boss Roy Adkins, and Charlie Wilson, one of the Great Train Robbery gang.

But his main income allegedly came from drugs. Between 1996 and 1998 alone, cocaine worth an estimated £300m was smuggled into Britain by the organisation he is accused of heading.

The conviction of members of the organisation revealed the gang had supply networks in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Panama, and shipped cocaine across the Atlantic. The drugs were then transferred to locally registered boats off the British coast to avoid unwanted attention from customs officials. Most of the handovers happened a few miles off Salcombe in Devon, Poole in Dorset and Lymington in Hampshire when the yachts were met by smaller boats. The drugs were then transferred and ferried into the country.

The operation was exposed in 1996 when one of the boats, a 60ft converted fishing trawler, was caught in a storm and forced to dock in Ireland. Customs officers in Cork searched the ship and found 599 kilos of cocaine, worth £80m. The boat's skipper, John Ewart, an American, was convicted of drug-running and jailed in Ireland for 17 years.

By 1998 an international customs operation, codenamed Operation Extend, was closing in on the cocaine-smuggling network. A bug was planted in the wall of Wright's apartment, and his phones were tapped.

In 1998 Customs arrested 15 gang members who were sentenced to a total of 215 years. Among those jailed was Mr Wright's son, Brian Wright jnr, 35, who got 16 years for importing cocaine.

But in 1999 his father fled to Northern Cyprus, which does did not have an extradition treaty with Britain, and set up home in a luxury villa. He lived there for at least four years.

In the past two years Mr Wright returned to southern Spain and the glitzy Mediterranean resort of Marbella, widely considered to be the main European haunt for drug runners and money-launderers. Unfortunately for Mr Wright, he was recognised and the intelligence officers at Customs and Excise were informed. The Spanish police picked him up on an existing arrest warrant. Last night, he was being held at a jail in Malaga as the British authorities continued their attempts to bring him to trial.