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NCA operation brings down pilot’s smuggling crime group

Two men who conspired with a pilot to fly cocaine and heroin across the channel in a rented aircraft have been given prison sentences totaling 14 years following an investigation involving the National Crime Agency, Border Force and French authorities.

Wayne Coates, 49, (below right) from Wigan and Jamie Sharples, 30, (below left) from Bolton had been due to collect a delivery of class A drugs from pilot Philip Molyneux. Coates travelled to meet him at an airfield near Clacton, Essex on the morning of 31 October 2012.

Sharples Coates 380x225

However, Molyneux never made the rendezvous. He was arrested by French customs and police in Abbeville airfield before he was able to take-off. French officers found 12 kilos of cocaine and a kilo of heroin in a bag in his plane.

If cut and sold in the UK the haul would have had a potential street value of over £1.5 million.

The French had been alerted after British authorities noted suspicious activity involving the aircraft, which was rented from a firm in Blackpool.

Following his arrest the French authorities found calls and messages on Molyneux’s phone from numbers which were later linked by the NCA to Coates and Sharples. One, from Coates, said “Ring me Phil, what the f*** going on?” Another from Sharples stated “Get bk to me asap”.

Molyneux, 51, originally from Southport, was given a five year prison sentence in France for drugs offences. After his trial the French passed evidence regarding his contacts with individuals in the UK to the NCA.

Investigators were able to link Coates and Sharples to the plot through mobile phones and rental vehicles which were used to travel between the north west and Claction. Both men had also made trips to Amsterdam together.

They were arrested by the NCA in October 2015 at their home addresses in Bolton and Wigan, and eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to import class A drugs.

On Friday 19 May 2017 a judge at Bolton Crown Court sentenced Sharples to eight years in prison. The following Monday (22 May) Sharples got six years. 

Jon Hughes, from the NCA’s North West Border Investigation team, said:

“This has been a long and complicated investigation, but the result is that these two men, who were involved in bringing class A drugs to the north west, are behind bars.

“They planned to use Philip Molyneux’s skills as a pilot to evade border controls, and we were able to provide evidence that the same group was likely to have been involved in previous drug runs.

“Cocaine and heroin fuel violence, exploitation and crime on the streets in the UK. By working closely with Border Force and our French colleagues we have been able to prevent further criminality and protect the public.”

Border Force, the NCA and UK police forces are involved in Project Pegasus, a multi-agency campaign encouraging people living and working close to small airports to report unusual activity associated with general aviation.

General aviation includes aircraft such as microlights, helicopters, and business jets, and activities such as aerial surveys, deliveries, corporate flights and leisure flying.


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