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Mon 09 Jan 2017

Cocaine smuggling

THREE men, including one from Corsham, have been jailed for smuggling cocaine worth £2.5 million, dropped from a light aircraft on the day of the Brexit referendum.

Andrew Barrett, Michael Mealing, from Corsham, and Jonathan Hart plotted possible landing and drop-off sites in Kent on a map and carried out a reconnaissance of a location, unaware they were under surveillance by the National Crime Agency.

On June 23 last year investigators watched as a light aircraft flew low over one of the sites, a secluded field a few miles from Faversham.

Shortly afterwards, Mealing, 41, and Hart drove away from the area in a Land Rover, the Old Bailey heard.

They were followed to a builder's yard in Faversham, where officers swooped to arrest them.

In the boot of the vehicle were three large fuel containers packaged with heavy-duty tape capable of withstanding a drop from the air.

A total of 31kg of high-purity cocaine was recovered from the containers, with a wholesale value of just over £1m and a potential street value of £2.5m.

Later, Barrett, who was said to have played a leading role, was spotted at a house in Watford in a white van and was also arrested.

In the back of the van, officers found a holdall containing a further 18kg of cocaine, 1kg of MDMA and 15kg of cannabis.

The stash had a combined wholesale value of around £650,000, but if sold on the streets could have been worth more than £1.5 million.

Referring to Barrett's activities following the arrests of his cohorts, prosecutor Heidi Stonecliffe said: "Once he knew that Hart and Mealing had been arrested, Mr Barrett decided to remove from any location he would be connected with evidence tying him to both the conspiracy as well as further evidence of him being involved in the supply of significant commercial quantities of drugs.

"He effectively moved his stash lock, stock and barrel in a van to somewhere where he thought it would not be found."

Father-of-three Barrett, 41, of Cheddington, near Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, Mealing and Hart, 60, of no fixed abode, admitted importing cocaine.

Barrett pleaded guilty to possession of class A and B drugs with intent to supply and money laundering.

Mealing also admitted possession of criminal property, £7,000 found in a wardrobe at his home.

Mitigating, Sarah Forshaw QC told how Barrett got mixed up in the drugs trade through an unnamed contact he met in Spain, where he had worked building luxury villas.

She said: "The reality is he was an extremely popular hard-working construction project manager and he was well-known for being a decent family man and so it was that initially he was provided with a phone number and coded mobile phone.

"He was astonished how one moment he was living an ordinary respectable life and the next moment he was in a completely different world."


Report by - WT- Bruno Clements