Two facing jail over 'high stakes' cocaine smuggling plot

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The Independent Online

Two men were facing jail tonight for their roles in a "high stakes" £200 million cocaine-smuggling plot.

The gang tried to smuggle 62 bales - more than 1,500kg (3,300lb) - of the drug into southern Ireland.

But they were foiled when their boat ran out of fuel in rough seas and was shipwrecked off the Irish coast on July 2 2007.

Retired Metropolitan Police detective Michael Daly, 49, and Alan Wells, 56, admitted their parts in the conspiracy and will be sentenced at a later date.

Mark Gadsden, prosecuting, told the court Daly was "pivotal" to the conspiracy, organising the logistics, purchasing the rigid-hull inflatable boat (Rib) and a rescue vessel and finding "safe houses" to be rented near the remote, disused pier where it was intended the drugs would be brought ashore.

"He was also one of the principals who was to have shared in the large profits which were to be made from this conspiracy."

Wells assisted Daly in the logistics, he added.

Video footage and photos were shown to the jury to give them an idea of the weather conditions, as three-metre high waves crashed against the rocky cliffs.

Mr Gadsden said: "The weather conditions were quite bad. It was blowing a force five or six gale and there was quite a strong swell.

"The Rib got into difficulty, having run out of fuel, and ultimately it started to take in water and then had become submerged and dragged down by the engines so only the top part of the Rib was jutting out of the water when it was spotted by the lifeboat men."

The cocaine had been taken on the Lucky Day catamaran from Barbados to a handover point off the Irish coast, the court heard.

The Lucky Day was bought in Florida for 110,000 US dollars in cash on March 3 2007 before mooring on the island of Margarita off the coast of Venezuela on March 31.

It set off with a Lithuanian crew from Barbados on May 25 for its 3,000-mile journey, Mr Gadsden said.

But the location where the drugs ended up on the morning of July 2 was not the intended landing site, the court heard.

Mr Gadsden said: "Subsequent investigation by the Republic of Ireland police revealed a highly sophisticated and meticulously planned operation which centred on two rented properties from which many key exhibits were recovered."

Fingerprints and other evidence were found at the "safe houses" in Farranamanagh and Letter West after the conspirators' plan went wrong, the jury was told.

"They were strategically located, overlooking the proposed landing site of the consignment of drugs at an extremely remote, disused pier," Mr Gadsden said.

The court heard Daly had bought the main drugs Rib in October 2006 for the equivalent of £34,000 from a South African company, using a money transfer via a foreign currency bureau in Victoria Street, London.

In 2007 the vessel, and a smaller rescue Rib, were taken to Ireland from the UK, on the car ferry from Pembroke to Rosslare.

Daly and Wells both managed to flee Ireland via the car ferry on Daly's false passport, the court heard.

Police surveillance teams saw Daly at the Bridges pub in South Darenth, Kent, on September 4.

Both Daly and Wells were later arrested.

The case can be reported for the first time today after a mechanic accused of arranging three Land Rovers for the gang was cleared of conspiracy to supply class A drugs by a jury at London's Blackfriars Crown Court.

Edney, 57, from Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, breathed a loud sigh of relief in the dock as he was cleared after more than eight hours of jury deliberations.

He had told the six men and six women on the jury he thought the 4x4s were going to be used at a fishing complex in France and said he had no idea there was any link with a drugs plot.

The men behind the plot tried to land 62 bales of cocaine, which weighed 1,554kg, on the remote point of southern Ireland using the Rib.

Prosecutors, who described the plan as "high stakes", said the drugs were transferred to the Rib from a catamaran which had crossed the Atlantic from the Caribbean.

But the boat ran out of fuel in rough seas off the Irish coast on July 2, 2007, and began to sink, leaving Gerard Hagan and Joe Daly to swim ashore near Dunlough Bay in County Cork.

Martin Wanden had to be rescued by helicopter and was taken to hospital, where he gave a false name.

Wanden, Joe Daly and a third man, Perry Wharrie, were convicted after a trial in Cork, Ireland, while Hagan pleaded guilty.