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The 'suburban smuggler' facing death penalty in Indonesia

Cheltenham housewife arrested in Bali with nearly 5kg of cocaine in her suitcase

A British housewife was facing possible execution yesterday after being arrested on suspicion of smuggling £1.6 million worth of cocaine into Bali.

Lindsay Sandiford, 55, fought to hide her face as she was paraded in front of the press, flanked by Indonesian police officers, with almost 4.8kg of drugs they said were found sewn into the lining of her suitcase.

Another British woman and two men as well as an Indian man – said to be the intended recipients – were also put on public display, wearing orange prison uniforms and balaclavas.

Yesterday residents of the street in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, where Mrs Sandiford used to live with her two sons described them as a "neighbours from hell," though a former friend insisted she was a "lovely, bubbly" woman.

Indonesia has extremely strict drug laws, and Mrs Sandiford could face the death penalty if convicted. Initial reports said that she had told police that she had only agreed to carry the drugs after her children were threatened.

The mother-of-two, believed to be from Redcar, Teesside, was stopped as she arrived at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok on 19 May, customs official Made Wijaya told the press conference in Kuta. "After weighing, the total cocaine is 4.791kg," he said, estimating the street value at 23.9 billion Indonesian rupiah (£1.6m).

He continued: "This is a big international network. The charge against them would carry the death penalty."

Two days after her arrest, Mrs Sandiford agreed to be used in a sting operation carried out by Indonesian authorities. When a British woman, identified only as RLD, contacted her two days later a meeting was arranged.

The head of Bali's drugs squad said that the woman and two British men, identified by the initials BP and JAP, were subsequently arrested on suspicion of being senior figures in a major drug-smuggling syndicate, controlled from abroad.

Another 68g of cocaine, 280g of powdered ecstasy and a small amount of hashish were also seized following the arrest of the other gang members at separate locations in Bali, officials said.

Yesterday, neighbours of Mrs Sandiford in Cheltenham said many "strange" visitors would turn up at the house at all hours of the day and night.

One man who lives nearby, Colin Richardson, said: "I was glad to see the back of her. She was totally the wrong sort of person in this sort of neighbourhood."

Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: "When the house was repossessed they had to completely redo it.

"She gave the impression of being quite well off and everything, but she was just putting on a facade."

Reports in the local newspaper, the Gloucestershire Echo, revealed that she had clashed with the local education authority over schooling for her son Eliot – who she said had behavioural problems – when he was a teenager.

Neighbours said that in addition to Eliot, who is now believed to be 22, Mrs Sandiford had another son Lewis who was two years older.

But Maria Swift, 47, who worked part time for Mrs Sandiford, painted a different image, insisting: "She was friendly, bubbly, she was helpful, she helped me. I did a bit of cleaning for her, it was just to help her out in general. Her boys were a bit messy – which boys can be."

At the time she knew Mrs Sandiford, she had been working for a firm of solicitors doing administrative work, Ms Swift added. "I'm just gobsmacked because I didn't see that side of her and it's hard to believe that she could work for a legal firm and go from one extreme to another."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the arrest in Bali, and we stand ready to provide consular assistance."