Sentence of 20 years for drug smuggler welcomed

Sat, Oct 6, 2012, 01:00

GARDAÍ YESTERDAY welcomed a 20-year sentence handed down by a British court to a 46-year-old man involved in Ireland’s biggest ever drug seizure when gardaí and Customs officers recovered €440 million worth of cocaine from the sea off west Cork.

Assistant Commissioner Tony Quilter said the case of Briton Stephen Denis Brown highlighted the fact that law enforcement agencies have the capacity to track down drug-trafficking gangs and bring them to justice.

“This case highlights the fact that no matter where you are or how long it takes, law enforcement agencies here and abroad have the ability and the determination to track you down and bring you before the courts,” he said.

Mr Quilter said the sentence, handed down by Mr Justice Hilliard at Woolwich Crown Court yesterday, along with similar long sentences handed down by courts in Ireland and the UK, reflected how seriously the judiciary in both countries viewed drug smuggling.

Mr Quilter said gardaí, along with colleagues in the Customs Service and Naval Service, had gathered a significant amount of evidence that they were able to pass on to their counterparts in the UK, which led to Brown being brought to justice.

Mr Quilter’s comments were echoed by Det Insp Grant Johnson of the London Metropolitan’s serious and organised crime command, who paid tribute to the Irish law enforcement agencies for their assistance in “a complex investigation”.

“Together we have convicted a sophisticated team of career criminals, who were looking to make vast sums of money dealing in drugs and the misery that brings to many people’s lives. Instead, they have received very substantial prison sentences, which I hope will act as a deterrent to others.”

Brown was one of the English drug-smuggling gang who travelled to west Cork in June 2007 to collect a 1.5 tonne cocaine consignment from South America with the intention of smuggling the drugs into the UK for distribution to crime gangs.

However, the plan went awry when, after collecting the drugs from the catamaran Lucky Day, one of the gang put diesel into the petrol engines of a high-powered rigged inflatable boat. Its engines stalled and it overturned in Dunlough Bay near Mizen Head.

Brown was one of those in the 10-man gang who was due to collect the drugs and he drove to Dunlough Bay with Perry Wharrie. But when they saw that the boat had overturned, Brown fled along the shoreline while Wharrie went to rescue another man, Joe Daly.

Brown managed to make it back to the UK and from there fled to Spain but gardaí, working with UK counterparts in Operation Cromer, traced him to Malaga and he was extradited back to the UK to face trial.

Brown joins gang members Martin Wanden and Wharrie who are serving 30 years, Daly who is serving 25 years and Gerard Hagan who is serving 10 years, all in Ireland, and Michael Daly who is serving 22 years and Alan Wells who is serving 14 years, both in the UK.

Another member of the gang is awaiting trial in the UK; and another member, Stephen Jackson, took his own life in Spain. Only one member of the gang, Robert Ferguson, remains at large five years after the bungled drug-smuggling operation.