A Royal Navy wren who came to Britain as an asylum seeker was jailed for seven-and-a-half years today for smuggling £2 million worth of cocaine into the UK on board a warship.
Teresa Matos, 37, an Angolan-born steward from Contsworth Court, Gateshead, picked up 4.94kg of 100% pure cocaine while HMS Manchester had docked at the port of Cartagena in Colombia, South America, in July last year.
The drugs were discovered hidden in the lining of Matos's clothes inside her locker when the Type 42 destroyer arrived in Plymouth, Devon, in August en route to its home port of Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Matos, who was granted asylum in 2004, was sentenced at Portsmouth Crown Court alongside her boyfriend Raul Beia, 39, - who was also granted asylum to live in the UK - and two other men.
Matos and Abdul Banda, 34, of Ashbourne Road, Ealing, west London, both pleaded guilty to illegally importing drugs.
Beia, 39, and Dean Langley, 20, were found guilty of the same charge by a jury after denying their involvement.
Beia, who was also born in Angola but was given British citizenship in 2004 after claiming asylum, was jailed for 13 years, Banda for 10-and-a-half years and Langley for 11 years.
Sentencing them, Judge Ian Pearson said: "This was a serious importation of a considerable quantity of cocaine.
"The rewards that were to be made, had you been successful, would have been considerable and the penalties must be considerable as well.
"It goes without saying this offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence of some length may be justified."
Matos was arrested in Plymouth while Banda was arrested with Beia, of Clapham, London, and Langley, of Clem Attlee Estate, Fulham, London, at Portsmouth's Ibis Hotel.
The three men were caught on CCTV purchasing digital scales, plastic boxes and clingfilm to be used to distribute the drugs.
Judge Pearson ordered for the drugs and paraphernalia to be confiscated and destroyed.
The court was told that Beia and Banda were the "ringleaders" of the operation while Matos was a courier and Langley was recruited to receive and distribute the drugs.
Beia has a previous conviction for false accounting, Banda for conspiracy to rob and Langley for charges of robbery, supplying a class A drug and possessing a gun-shaped lighter.
Andrew Oldland, prosecuting, said the drugs were found on board HMS Manchester following an eight-month deployment to the Atlantic and South America.
He said: "The drugs were not there as might be expected by way of some anti-smuggling operation, but instead they had been brought on board by this defendant (Matos)."
The court heard that Matos came to the UK in 2000 and was granted British citizenship in 2004 after successfully claiming asylum.
She joined the Navy in June 2007 before taking up a position as a steward on HMS Manchester in September 2008.
Charles Thomas, defending Matos, said she took part in the conspiracy after being led astray by her boyfriend, Beia.
He said: "She was a woman in love with Beia, he was certainly paying lip-service to that affection.
"It was a wish to please him rather than a wish to get involved in the operation itself that appears to lie behind why she behaved so out of character."
He added that Matos had taken "considerable pride" in taking up her position in the Navy.
He said: "In 2000 she had been an asylum seeker, a successful asylum seeker from 2004 onwards.
"She worked hard by studying and working for a variety of jobs.
"She was a lady who had started to make something of herself and joining the Navy was something she saw as a way of giving something back to the country she had adopted and which had adopted her.
"This is all the more ironic and sadder considering how she finds herself in the position she finds herself in today."
Sentencing Matos, Judge Pearson said: "I acknowledge you are of good character, unblemished career and you achieved a great deal since you arrived in this country including being accepted into the Royal Navy.
"You made use of your position in the Royal Navy to import these drugs, it was an abuse of this position, an abuse of trust.
"Without your role the enterprise would not have been possible."
A Royal Navy Fleet spokesman said after the hearing: "Royal Navy personnel are subject to the same laws as other members of the community and criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.
"We work closely with our partners in the Serious Organised Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies to ensure the strict compliance of the service and its personnel with the law."