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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 18:15 GMT
'Cocaine Queen' jailed for smuggling
Seized cocaine
The drugs were brought to the UK from the Caribbean
A cocaine-smuggling gang has been jailed for a total of 141 years after trying to import a record 90m worth of the drug into Britain.

Gang leader Julie Paterson, an accomplished yachtswoman, nicknamed the "Cocaine Queen", was jailed for 24 years for her part in the operation.

It is one of the longest sentences ever handed down to a female drugs trafficker.

Ms Paterson and her lover Michael Tyrrell, headed an international consortium which spent months plotting the sophisticated trans-Atlantic operation.

This gang tried to smuggle a huge quantity of cocaine into the UK and have received jail terms that reflect the seriousness of their crimes

Jim Fitzpatrick, Customs and Excise
Tyrell was sentenced in March 2002 to 26 years for his part in organising the importation attempt.

Gang member Frederic Fillingham of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, received a jail term of 18 years following Tuesday's court hearing, at which Paterson was sentenced.

The operation was thwarted when mechanical failure on board an inflatable dinghy and bad weather conspired to end their dream.

Paterson, living in Antigua but originally from Norfolk, was a member of the party observed by Customs officers waiting for the drugs to arrive on an Isle of Wight beach.

They seized the 369kg haul, which originated from Antigua in the Caribbean on board the yacht Blue Hen.

Trans-Atlantic trip

The drugs were bound for towns and cities across the country, London's Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

Paterson, 46, was actively involved in preparing the Blue Hen for sail and used her sailing skills to brief the crew on use of navigational equipment and landing sites.

Customs launched a joint investigation - Operation Eyeful - with the National Crime Squad in July 2000.

Tyrrell and Paterson were subsequently kept under close surveillance whenever they were in the UK, and tailed repeatedly as they bought a wide range of equipment for the operation.

In September 2000, the Blue Hen cast off with a three-strong crew, collected the drugs from Bequia, an island near St Vincent, and headed for the Isle of Wight.

They arrived on 22 October.

With the weather worsening, the 20 large cocaine bales were loaded into the yacht's 12 foot inflatable.

One of the men remained on board while the others headed for Orchard Bay on the Isle of Wight.

Treacherous path

Halfway there the outboard died, forcing them to land at Woody Bay half a mile off course.

They had to abandon their consignment on the beach and begin a treacherous night-time, cliff-top slog to base, where the rest of the gang waited.

All eight people arrested in October 2000 as part of Operation Eyeful have been jailed, with a combined prison sentence of 141 years.

Assistant Chief Investigation Officer for Customs and Excise, Jim Fitzpatrick, said: "This gang tried to smuggle a huge quantity of cocaine into the UK and have received jail terms that reflect the seriousness of their crimes.

"We will now ensure that we go after every penny we can identify has been made from their drugs trafficking."

Passing sentence on Tuesday, Judge Timothy King said: "Those that involve themselves in the trafficking of hard and dangerous drugs are purveyors of misery, degradation and even death to those that become addicted.

"You and others like you have much to answer for. Drug abuse is a scourge in a decent and civilised society, and costs civilised society many billions of pounds."

Gang members Robert Kavanagh, Dider Lebrun, Laurent Penchef and German Henao were convicted in March 2002 for drugs trafficking offences.

Tyrell's common-law wife Jill Fuller was jailed in April 2002, for money laundering offences.

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