How a black Ferrari snared the £1bn drug barons

Cavan and Jamie Hanna hid the vast scale of their narcotics empire behind a facade of frugality. But then one of their henchmen was spotted in a sports car

Cavan and Jamie Hanna were, on paper, fairly unsuccessful property developers, living with their wives and children in townhouses in rural Kent.

Jamie's annual income was £15,000; Cavan told the Inland Revenue he earned a more handsome, but hardly dizzying, £50,000. What the brothers didn't declare was that between them they ran one of Britain's biggest drugs empires, earning up to £120m a year in a professional operation that has all the hallmarks of a storyline from the US crime series The Wire.

For 10 years, the pair used safe-houses across south-east England to store and then sell wholesale amounts of cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines to street-level dealers. They wouldn't sell you less than £300,000 worth.

They evaded capture for more than a decade, earning an estimated £1bn, by keeping their criminality close-knit. The brothers used an uncle to store cash for them, a cousin to courier money, and an old school friend to look after the safe-houses.

The pair, along with six others, were finally arrested last year and are set to receive lengthy prison sentences today.

Their undoing, as the druglords in The Wire know all too well, was covert surveillance photographs and hidden microphones, which recorded conversations between the gang in their cars.

The investigation began in 2007 when officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) identified the Hannas' cousin Stephen Mee, 51, as a possible drugs suspect.

But they stumbled on the Hannas by chance. Cavan Hanna, 39, who regularly met Mee, had a previous conviction for drink-driving so when he was spotted in a car, police decided to stop him and search the vehicle. Inside it, police found a booklet containing details of what they thought were drug deals but with this as their only evidence, Hanna was not arrested.

Instead they decided to widen their surveillance. In a taped conversation, Cavan Hanna told Stephen Mee that he was in the clear and so continued his drug dealing.

More surveillance showed that the gang's main safe-house was at a block of flats in Acton, west London. There, in October 2007, officers spotted Jon Bastable, 37, a childhood friend of the Hannas, handing a hold-all to Raj Koli, a man recruited to launder money for the gang. Koli, 33, who had seemingly ignored the preference of the Hannas to maintain a low profile and only use modest hire cars, was stopped by police in his black Ferrari. The hold-all contained £414,770, sealed in plastic wrapping, which contained the fingerprints of Cavan Hanna. Koli was arrested but, in order to allow the operation to continue, Bastable was not.

Sensing the authorities were closing in on them, the Hannas, like their counterparts in The Wire, "changed it up". They moved their safe-house and ordered Bastable to stop working. Soca officers temporarily lost them.

They did not find them again until April 2008 when they identified a penthouse flat in Alderman House, Greenhithe, Kent. The flat was in the name of Darren Rankin, who had been using motorcycles to deliver and collect cash from the Hanna operation.

On 10 June last year, officers for the first time saw the Hannas together with Rankin, 38, and Bastable – and decided to arrest them. When officers from Soca kicked down the door of the safe-house, they found the Hanna brothers and Bastable "knee deep" in £1.1m worth of bank notes.

Two days later, the officers went to another of the Hannas' safe-houses in Waterstone Park, Kent. In the garage of the property was a man-hole cover. The officers lifted the cover to find two safes which had been placed there in concrete. Inside them, they found £2.7m in cash. The money was again sealed in plastic but, like the cash found in Koli's car, it contained the fingerprints of a Hanna. This time they were Jamie's. The raid at Alderman House uncovered bills for a warehouse in Abbey Wood, south-east London. So, on 13 June, officers raided this property. There they found 15,000 ecstasy tablets and 80kg of amphetamine. The drugs were worth £1m.

CCTV footage from the building introduced the Soca team to Martin Winter, 46, another member of the gang. He had been hired by Mee and was the only member of the group to actually touch the drugs. Officers said he was "sacrificial" in the Hannas' plans.Finally, officers visited the home of the Hannas' uncle, George Webb, 61, in Eltham, south-east London.

Jamie Hanna, 38, had been spotted visiting the house and when it was searched, £650,000 was found in the water tank in the loft. In total £5,131,211 was recovered, but officers say it is the tip of the iceberg.

A Soca officer, who cannot be named for operational security reasons, said: "We have never seen a Mr Big of this magnitude and the fact that they have pleaded guilty says a lot: organised criminals of this level do not plead guilty unless the evidence is very daunting."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee