Rich List drugs baron jailed for 13 years

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The Independent Online

Drugs baron Curtis Warren, thought to be one of Britain's richest criminals, was jailed for 13 years today.

Warren, 46, and five members of his gang were convicted last October of a plot to smuggle £1 million worth of cannabis into Jersey, the Channel Islands.

The former Liverpool street dealer, who became Interpol's most wanted man, appeared by video link from Belmarsh Prison in South East London for his sentencing at the Royal Court in St Helier.

Warren, nicknamed Cocky by the criminal underworld, is the only drug dealer to have appeared on the Sunday Times Rich List.

He showed no reaction as Judge Sir Richard Tucker passed sentence.

The judge said: "We do not sentence him because of his record or notoriety. Nevertheless he has been shown to be the mastermind behind the planned importation."

Turning to Warren, Sir Richard added: "After being released from prison in Holland it was a very short space of time before you embarked on this drug trafficking enterprise. It was you who provided the contacts in Holland and the source of supply."

The judge, sitting with a panel of five jurats - retired members of the public who set the sentence - added that it ought to be known that Jersey courts impose severe sentences for drugs offences.

The gang planned to buy 180kg (400lb) of the drug in Amsterdam and transport the consignment by car to the coast of Normandy, France, where it was to be placed on a boat to Jersey.

Had the plot, in June and July 2007, succeeded, Warren would have taken a sizeable share of the haul.

The trial was told the street value of drugs in Jersey is three times higher in than in the UK and the gang expected to make handsome profits.

Advocate Howard Sharp, prosecuting, called Warren the "head" of the conspiracy and asked the judge to jail him for 13 years.

In his sentencing remarks today, the prosecutor said it was the biggest drugs trafficking case yet to come before the courts in Jersey.

He added: "Warren is a prolific drugs trafficker who has operated at the highest levels of the international drugs trade.

"Warren orchestrated this conspiracy. He knew and had direct contact with the main coordinators in both Jersey and Holland, from source to distributor.

"He had the necessary clout and influence to direct them. He was the link between the two."

Fellow gang member John Welsh, 43, originally from Liverpool, who was described in the trial as the "willing purchaser" of the drugs, was sentenced to 12 years.

Welsh, who invested £18,000 in the plot, was the target of an illegal bugging device which Jersey police used when he travelled to Holland to negotiate the purchase of drugs.

The bug recorded him discussing the plot in explicit terms and was crucial to the prosecution.

He was already a police target after being jailed on the island for ten years in 2000 for the largest heroin seizure in the Channel Islands.

The judge said: "You made all the arrangements on the ground, you recruited the other defendants in Jersey and you travelled to Amsterdam.

"If it had not been for you this conspiracy would never have happened in Jersey."

James O'Brien, 45, from Glasgow, received a 10 year sentence for agreeing to pilot the boat which the smugglers planned to use.

Prosecutors said the labourer was the obvious choice as he had committed a similar crime in the early part of this decade. On that occasion too he was caught and jailed.

When he was arrested, O'Brien already had the route planned on his marine satellite navigation system and copies of the tide time tables.

In 2002, the Court of Appeal found he was a "major player" in the import of almost 60kgs of cannabis into Jersey, at the time the largest importation of cannabis to come before the island's courts.

The hearing was then adjourned for the judge and jurats to further consider the sentences for the remaining defendants.

The plot began just weeks after Warren was released from a Dutch prison where he had served 10 years of a 17-year term for a £75 million drug trafficking plot, firearms offences and, later, manslaughter.

But as he resumed his criminal activities, the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency was following his every move as part of a "lifetime offender management" programme.

Police surveillance teams watched Warren and his gang's every move.

The trial jury heard one conversation where Warren described the plot as "just a little starter".

When States of Jersey Police bugged co-accused Welsh's car during his trip to Amsterdam, they did it without the permission of the French, Belgian and Dutch governments.

In fact, the three governments all said it was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

But Jersey police bugged the car anyway and also lied to the French police about it.

Defence teams for the gang said they have petitioned the UK's Privy Council to rule the illegally-obtained evidence should not have been used in the trial and the convictions should be quashed.

They also urged the jurats to impose a reduced prison sentence in order to "punish" the police for their conduct.

In the sentencing, Sir Richard Tucker said: "The conduct of Jersey police was most reprehensible, unlawful and regretful and we do not subscribe to the view that the ends justify the means."

The judge said the actions "jeopardised" Jersey's future co-operation with police forces across Europe.

He added: "However, we do not regard it as our role to discipline the police and these matters are inappropriate considerations in our duties at sentencing."

Jason Woodward, 22, of Dartford, Kent, Paul Hunt, 27, and Oliver Lucas, 23, both from St Helier, Jersey, who were also investors in the scheme, received five-year terms.

Ultimately, the plot floundered when those three were unable to raise their part of the cash to pay for the drugs.

All six were found guilty of conspiracy to import a controlled drug by a unanimous jury of six men and five women following a three week trial in the Channel Islands earlier this year.