Three men have been jailed for a total of 42 years after being convicted of attempting to smuggle cocaine worth almost €100 million into the UK.
Ringleader Michael McDermott, 68, was yesterday handed a 16-year sentence after being found guilty of drug importation offences following a week-long trial at Bristol Crown Court.
His co-accused, David Pleasants, 57, and Dutchman Gerald Van de Kooij, 27, were imprisoned for 14 years and 12 years respectively.
Both Pleasants and Van de Kooij pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle the cocaine into the UK, while McDermott denied the charges against him, claiming he had no knowledge there were any drugs on board the boat he was captaining.
The haul was the single largest shipment of cocaine to be intercepted by UK customs officers last year. Weighing almost a tonne, the drugs were found to be up to 70% pure.
The consignment was so large that Border Force guards took two days to remove the drugs from the fishing boat the men used in their smuggling attempt.
After receiving intelligence from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), two Border Force cutters kept the fishing trawler under surveillance for 24 hours.
It is believed the men took the drugs on board when they met with another vessel off the coast of Ireland. They then made their way to Cornish waters, where they were intercepted by specialist NCA and Border Force officers, who escorted them into Falmouth docks where the ship was searched.
The drugs were found concealed beneath bags of sand and gravel in the boat’s fish hold on 18 August last year.
Speaking after McDermott’s trial, Mark Harding, Senior Investigating Officer of the NCA’s Border Investigation Team, said: “This was a huge quantity of cocaine, the biggest single seizure made in the UK in 2016.
“Michael McDermott used his specialist skills as a sailor to attempt to evade border controls. We provided solid evidence that led to his conviction and have taken out another means of transport used by organised criminals to bring drugs to Britain.
“His was a crucial link in a chain that leads from cocaine manufacturers in South America to drug dealers in the UK.
“In stopping this consignment, we have prevented further criminality by the gangs who bring violence and exploitation to our streets.”
McDermott, who has a previous conviction for drug trafficking, purchased the fishing boat for £17,000 (€19,850) in cash just weeks before his arrest, telling the seller of the vessel he was planning to use it for chartered angling trips to Spain.
The court heard the ship was taken to Ramsgate in Kent for work to be carried out on it before it set sail on the men’s smuggling mission.