Olympic judo star convicted of gun charge

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A former Olympic judo contestant was convicted today of possessing firearms in his role as 'enforcer' for a £50m drugs gang.

James Waithe, 47, who represented Barbados at the Olympics and England in the Commonwealth Games, worked as a debt-collector for the gangsters, who turned over around £1m a week from cocaine sales.

He was found guilty yesterday of conspiracy to supply cocaine but the jury decided he was not guilty of conspiracy to possess an explosive substance.

Today, after 20 hours of deliberation at Bristol Crown Court, the jury returned a majority guilty verdict on one count of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

But he was found not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm.

Police were called to a report of a burglary at Waithe's flat in Highridge Green, Bristol, and stumbled on a 10-tonne hydraulic press, white powder and cutting agents.

Officers also found an "arsenal" of weapons, including rifles, handguns, stun grenades and ammunition, which Waithe said he had no knowledge of.

Waithe competed for Barbados in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and taught PE and citizenship at Withywood Community School and Bristol Gateway Special School.

The jury heard that part of Waithe's role is said to have included extreme violence.

The prosecution claimed he once tied a man to a chair, beat him with nunchuks, extinguished lit cigarettes in his ears and put his hands into an electric toaster.

Waithe's co-defendant, Robert Brooks, 63, of no fixed address, was found not guilty of six charges of possession of firearms but guilty of conspiracy to possess explosives, namely stun grenades.

He admitted conspiracy to supply drugs.

Grant Richmond, of Long Cross, Lawrence Weston, and Craig Rodel, 46, of Wexford Road, Bristol, and Luke Downes, 22, of Pevensey Walk, Bristol, have all pleaded guilty to being involved in the conspiracy to supply drugs.

Judge Simon Darwall-Smith remanded Waithe into custody to await pre-sentence reports before adjourning the case for sentencing to a date to be fixed.

He thanked the jury for its work during the 10-week trial.

Waithe's case at Bristol Crown Court concluded a massive police operation to bring the gang to justice.

It can be reported today that 17 gang members are already behind bars for their part in the illegal trade, with a further one man fined.

Meanwhile, five other gang members are awaiting sentencing for conspiracy to supply drugs and firearms offences.

Even after some of the Bristol gang were caught, they continued their business from behind bars by mobile phone, moving the operation to cut the cocaine to Devon.

Over three years and four operations - codenamed Marin, Maltsters, and Maiden - detectives rooted out the remaining members.

The final investigation, operation Malbec, followed Waithe and the gang who had taken over the drug-dealing patch from a father and his two sons after they were jailed.

Philip Pearce, 57, his sons Jamie, 26, and Justin 29, and their team were active in 2007.

Being jailed did not stop Justin Pearce - now serving 20 years - masterminding the scheme from his jail cell by mobile phone.

His girlfriend Leah Murphy - later jailed for seven years when she was eight months pregnant - became involved.

He then moved the operation to Devon with a new crew.

But by 2008 former business associate Craig Rodel, 46, Waithe and the three others had exploited the Pearce family absence and were running the show.

During the entire investigation police seized more than £95,000 in cash, 11.2kg of cocaine, 303.52g of heroin and more than 200kg of cutting agent.

Firearms found included one pistol, two air pistols, four rifles, one small bore shotgun, five handguns and three military issue stun grenades.

Two industrial presses, two tablet making machines, a 15 tonne press and a hydraulic press were also recovered.