Sixteen cocaine 'mule' suspects arrested at Gatwick

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The Independent Online

Sixteen suspected cocaine ''mules'' were arrested at Gatwick Airport yesterday as Customs officers launched the second drugs crackdown on a flight from Jamaica in a fortnight.

All 16 passengers on the British Airways flight from Kingston were thought to have swallowed latex-wrapped parcels containing the class A drug and were placed under medical supervision. Customs officers also seized cocaine with a street value of £500,000. A 17th passenger was arrested after 16 kilos of cannabis was found in his luggage.

Two further suspected cocaine ''mules'' were arrested after travelling to Brixton to meet five men, who were arrested for conspiracy to import drugs. Three passengers had been arrested by the Jamaican authorities before they could board the aircraft.

Yesterday's seizures follow a police raid last week on a Kingston to Heathrow flight after which 25 passengers were arrested and cocaine worth an estimated £1m seized.

The clampdown on ''cocaine flights'' from the Caribbean has been organised by Operation Trident, a Metropolitan Police unit dedicated to tackling back-on-black armed crime. This month's raids, co-ordinated with immigration officials and Customs and Excise, were ordered amid growing concern about drug-related violent crime in London blamed on Kingston-based drug barons.

Officers from Operation Trident said yesterday's drugs underlined the extent of drug trafficking between Britain and the Caribbean.

Detective Chief Inspector Les Green, of Operation Trident, said: ''This shows the scale of the problem. This was just a routine flight into London from Jamaica. We believe this was the lower end of the numbers coming in. We have recovered more drugs than the total force recovers in one week in operations in London.''

Drug smuggling from Jamaica is thought to account for half of the cocaine on the streets of the UK and has been blamed for increasing gun crime, especially in the capital. Yesterday's haul increased police concerns about foothold Jamaican drug barons have established in the UK, which they say is aided by the absence of visa restrictions on Jamaican visitors. The haul also gave further impetus to police demands, expressed last week by Detective Superintendent Barry Phillips, a senior officer on the Trident team, for a dedicated task force involving customs and immigration officials.

A source from Operation Trident said: ''This morning's seizure was as a result of selective searches from intelligence gathered in Jamaica. If we had more resources then we could carry out further searches which would provide a much greater deterrent to traffickers.''