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Seaman given 30 years for pounds 100m cocaine plot: Sentence set to deter 'murderous cargoes'. John Arlidge reports

A SPANISH sea captain was jailed for 30 years yesterday for his part in Britain's biggest maritime cocaine smuggling plot.

Francisco Jose Boo Torres, 28, from Galicia, tried to smuggle half a ton of Colombian cocaine with a street value of pounds 100m into Britain in January 1991. He was convicted earlier this month after a four-year international investigation that cost more than pounds 1m.

In the High Court in Edinburgh, the judge, Lord Weir, said he hoped the sentence would act as a deterrent to others planning to exploit Scotland's coastline to import 'murderous cargoes' which caused 'incalculable misery and death'.

Customs and Excise officers who led the investigation, code-named Klondyke, expressed 'delight' at the outcome. John Clifford, assistant chief investigation officer, said: 'The smugglers were class A gangsters. Their operations mirrored any multinational organisation, with a financial controller, distribution managers and others. Torres was the vital transport link. He is one of the most important drugs smugglers ever to be brought to justice.'

At his trial earlier this month, the High Court in Glasgow was told that in December 1990 Torres loaded the cocaine and parachuted on to the Panama-registered freighter, the Dimar B, off the Colombian coast. He then sailed 6,000 miles to the west coast of Scotland.

Customs officers in the area, acting on intelligence reports that a cannabis smuggling operation was planned, had mounted surveillance around Ullapool. As they kept watch, a dinghy from the Dimar B sailed through storms into Oldany Bay, 40 miles further north, where the drugs, in hessian sacks, were loaded unseen into an orange van, which set off for London.

An off-duty Ullapool policeman, Sergeant Michael MacLennan, spotted the heavily- laiden vehicle in a lay-by. He became suspicious and contacted Customs officers.

The van was intercepted on the A9 Inverness road one hour later. Customs officials, who had expected to find half a ton of cannabis, were shocked to discover enough cocaine for more than a million 'scores'.

Five Scots were arrested. They were jailed three years ago for a total of 72 years for selling their knowledge of the coastal waters off Sutherland to the drugs barons and helping to transport the cocaine.

Torres escaped to Galway Bay and continued his smuggling activities. One year later, severe storms off Canada forced the Dimar B into Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was arrested after 16 tons of cannabis were unloaded. The Canadian authorities told British Customs officials.

After reports that drugs barons were planning to spring Torres from jail, Canadian police put him under 24-hour armed guard.

Torres was extradited to Scotland last July. The jury at his trial in Glasgow was told that Customs officers had found maps, charts and scribbled notes of Ullapool telephone numbers on board the Dimar B.

Customs officials yesterday said efforts would continue to track down the Scot, known only as Mr X, who is thought to have masterminded the operation. He fled 24 hours before the Dimar B sailed into UK waters. He was arrested in Spain but escaped two months ago during extradition proceedings.