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NCA and MPS dismantle 28 tonne cannabis conspiracy

Two men have been jailed over what is believed to be one of the biggest ever conspiracies to smuggle cannabis into the UK. 

Steven McDonald, aged 32, from Chatham in Kent, and John Wright, 66, from Hounslow, were part of a crime group behind the importation of in excess of 28 tonnes of cannabis over a seven year period – enough to provide two joints for every person in Britain.

They were caught after Border Force officers at Harwich port intercepted a consignment of around 300 kilos of herbal cannabis that had been shipped from the Netherlands disguised as flooring tiles on 24 April 2014.

The following day investigators from the National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service, through the joint Organised Crime Partnership team, watched as the load was delivered to an address in Whetstone, north London.

It was signed for by McDonald, who then loaded it into a van and drove it to a row of garages in Wembley, Wright following behind.

As the pair began to open the consignment officers moved in to arrest them. Another 150 kilos of cannabis was found in another garage in the same row.

Searches of McDonald and Wright’s home addresses led to the recovery of drug dealing ledgers and evidence of bank transfers and trips to the Netherlands made by the pair. Wright had travelled there at least 20 times a year since 2008 and even had access to a rented apartment in the Dutch town of Lisse.

NCA and MPS officers began to investigate the companies used by McDonald and Wright as cover for drug smuggling.

Working with Dutch police, investigators uncovered evidence of around a hundred other importations from three different Dutch addresses to the same two companies operated by McDonald and Wright.

One such shipment was apparently stolen at gunpoint by a rival criminal group, leading to both the Dutch and UK ends of the network having to change the names of companies and locations used as fronts for the deals.

The two men admitted conspiring to import class B drugs at a hearing at Luton Crown Court on 16 October 2014. Today (Friday 13 March) a judge at the same court sentenced Wright to nine years and four months in prison and McDonald to eight years. Both will also be banned from travelling outside the UK for ten years after their release.

Detective Inspector Steve Miles, from the joint NCA/MPS Organised Crime Partnership, said:

“These men were involved in drug smuggling on a truly industrial scale over a number of years. The potential street value of the cannabis imported as part of this conspiracy would have been in excess of £80 million.

“Using their contacts with criminal networks in the Netherlands they were able to set up elaborate fronts to cover their activities.

“But through our close work with the Dutch authorities and Border Force we were able to unpick that, and disrupt and then dismantle a very significant organised crime group responsible for bringing thousands of kilos of illegal drugs into the UK.”

Anthony Hill, a specialist organised crime lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, said:

“It is clear from the scale of the operation that has been thwarted that these men believed they could operate with impunity. The brazen assurance with which they carried out their crimes has led to their downfall and they have paid with their freedom. Their conviction and sentencing shows that organised crime such as this will not go unnoticed or unpunished.

“Such a vast quantity of drugs brings untold misery to communities across the country, breeding further crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Charlotte Mann, Border Force Assistant Director at Harwich, said:

“This was a sophisticated, large scale drug smuggling operation and I am delighted that, as a result of the initial Border Force detection at Harwich, our law enforcement colleagues have been able to bring these serious offenders to justice.”

NCA and MPS investigators continue to hunt a third man suspected of being involved in the conspiracy.

The man (pictured below) is believed to have used a fraudulently obtained British passport in the name of Mark Gamble to rent the garages used to unload the cannabis in Wembley and another location in West Hampstead used as a delivery address.
DI Steve Miles said:

“We are today releasing a photo of the man known as Mark Gamble who we wish to speak to in connection with this investigation.

“We know this identity has been used to rent a number of properties in the north London area, and I would urge anyone with information about him, his whereabouts or his true identity to contact the NCA on 0370 4967622.”

The OCP, formerly the Middle Market Drugs Partnership, brings together officers from the National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service to protect the communities of London from the harms inflicted by drug dealing.

Listen to the moment McDonald and Wright were arrested on SoundCloud.


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