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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 21:21 GMT
90m drug smugglers face jail
Heavy bales of cocaine were carried along a cliff top
An international drug smuggling gang face lengthy jail sentences after being convicted of sailing a 90m cocaine consignment into Britain.

Customs officers arrested the gang after spending months trailing the operation's 54-year-old mastermind, Michael Tyrrell.

Only one of the five men charged admitted smuggling. The others pleaded not guilty but were convicted by a jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London.

When the men are sentenced next month it will mark the end of a saga that saw intricate plannning, visions of huge wealth, colourful language and cliff-top antics.

Bales of cocaine

Assistant chief Customs investigation officer Jim Fitzpatrick said afterwards: "We are absolutely delighted with these verdicts.

"We have disrupted and dismantled a very sophisticated international drugs trafficking organisation capable of bringing vast amounts of cocaine into the country."

Bale upon bale of the drugs - bound for towns and cities across the country - were seized by Customs, the court was told.

An inflatable dinghy for inshore work and the ocean-going yacht used to bring the 396kg haul from the Caribbean to the Isle of Wight's Orchard Bay were also seized.

The court heard how two of the gang who were carrying the drugs onshore were swept along the coast after their dinghy's outboard motor failed.

Colombian drug baron

Then they had to lug bales of cocaine along a cliff top to the private beach of Tyrrell, who stood cursing at how the smuggling operation had turned into a farce.

It was then that Customs officers swooped from their undergrowth hideouts to arrest the gang.

Tyrrell, who has three children, claimed a Colombian drugs baron threatened to kill his mother if he did not do as he was told.

American "Captain" Didier Le Brun, 49, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was one of three who crewed the yacht across the Atlantic.

Caribbean hideaway

He was to receive a $200,000 US (140,000) pay packet once he had completed the four-and-a-half week ocean crossing in a 37ft single-masted vessel.

Other crew members were Laurent Penchef, 32, a dual US-French national and a Colombian called German Henao, 48, the only one to plead guilty.

The last of those on trial was American Robert Kavanagh, 55, who was unemployed but owned a lavish Caribbean hideaway in St Barthelemy.

He had insisted he was an innocent house guest of Tyrrell's, and had gone looking for his good friend Henao.

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