Three cleared of cocaine smuggling conspiracy

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THREE MEN were cleared yesterday of being involved in a conspiracy to smuggle top-quality cocaine worth pounds 7.2m on the streets into Britain.

There were emotional scenes at Bristol Crown Court as the jury returned not-guilty verdicts on Colin Wallbridge, 22, of Newport, Gwent; John Jones, 27, of no fixed address; and Merlin Meyer, 21, of Bristol.

The verdicts came at the end of a three-month trial during which the prosecution had alleged that the trio were couriers who knowingly brought 80 to 85 per cent-pure Bolivian cocaine into Britain at Stansted airport, Essex, on 27 July, 1992.

The jury, which spent four days considering verdicts, had heard the three say that they believed they were smuggling diamonds - and that they knew nothing of the cocaine, which was in gift-wrapped packages in their suitcases. They said they were in fear of the plot organiser and financier, Derek Gregory, 26, who was convicted earlier this week.

Also convicted this week was Gregory's half-brother Ernest Ford, 33 - the 'minder' for the cocaine haul when it arrived in Britain - and Lee Cameron, 26, who recruited couriers for the plot.

Gregory, of Paddington, west London; Cameron, of Easton, Bristol; and Ford, of Streatham, south London, are to be sentenced next month.