Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 14:37 UK

Drug smuggling cricketer jailed

Former England all-rounder Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis had denied a charge of smuggling class A drugs

Former England cricketer Chris Lewis has been jailed for 13 years for smuggling cocaine into Britain.

His co-accused, ex-basketball player Chad Kirnon, was given the same sentence at Croydon Crown Court.

The pair were found guilty of carrying a liquid form of the drug into Gatwick Airport on a flight from St Lucia.

Cans of fruit and vegetable juice seized by officials last December were found to contain dissolved cocaine with a street value of more than £140,000.

Both men had denied a charge of smuggling Class A drugs.

Lewis, 41, of Bruce Road, Brent, north London, claimed to have been on holiday in St Lucia and that he was unaware his luggage contained the drugs.

Kirnon, 27, of Carnegie Street, Islington, north London, was a former London Towers basketball player, who was stopped by customs officers after returning to the UK on the same flight as Lewis, on 8 December.

"In a cowardly attempt to evade justice, you each sought to blame the other
Judge Nicholas Ainley

Judge Nicholas Ainley told both men they had been motivated by greed and would be handed the same prison sentence.

"In a cowardly attempt to evade justice, you each sought to blame the other for a crime you obviously jointly committed.

"Drug smugglers would not entrust a valuable cargo like this to an innocent traveller," he said.

Addressing Lewis, Judge Ainley said: "You made it to the top of your profession."

He added: "This was greed and I am sure that you ran the risk that you did because you deduced that the risk was worth it, because the rewards were substantial.

"You were knowingly and willingly engaged in major organised crime."

Cigarette papers

Giving evidence in his defence during the trial Lewis said he did not even know cocaine could be converted into a liquid form.

Fruit juice tins
The tins of fruit juice contained dissolved cocaine

He insisted he had no idea there were drugs in his cricket bag until he was stopped at the airport, saying he thought he was carrying fruit juice.

He also rejected allegations that he had admitted smuggling cocaine on several previous occasions.

The court heard customs officers seized five tins of juice inside Lewis's Puma cricket bag which were found to contain a brown liquid which smelt of chemicals and turned out to be dissolved cocaine.

Traces of cannabis residue were also found in his luggage on a silver grinder and on cigarette papers which were tucked into a paperback book.

Lewis had stated he was travelling alone and that he had packed his luggage himself.

Sportsmen and women who are regularly in the public eye have a responsibility to act as role models
Peter Avery, HM Revenue & Customs

His co-accused was also found with three tins of dissolved cocaine in his luggage when he was stopped by officials 10 minutes later.

Kirnon said he had no idea the tins contained drugs and the juice was a gift for his mother.

The court heard the pair had been acting together to import the "very valuable consignment" in a "joint enterprise".

Tom Wilkins, prosecuting, said that when Lewis's luggage was inspected, the Puma cricket bag was found to be labelled with Mr Kirnon's name.

He said it was the "first of a number of links between these two defendants" and evidence "of what they were, together, up to".

Lewis verdict 'will deter others'

During the eight-day trial each had protested his innocence, casting suspicion on the other.

Speaking after they were sentenced, Peter Avery, assistant director of HM Revenue & Customs Criminal Investigations, said: "Sportsmen and women who are regularly in the public eye have a responsibility to act as role models and ambassadors for their respective sports.

"It is therefore even more disappointing when such role models get involved in the criminality of attempting to smuggle Class A drugs into the UK."

All-rounder Lewis, who was born in Guyana, played 32 Tests and 53 one-day internationals for England.

He played county cricket for Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Surrey before retiring with a persistent hip injury in 2000, though he rejoined Surrey in 2008 to play in the Twenty20 tournament.

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