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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
The unravelling of a drugs empire
By Martin Edwards
BBC News, London

Brian Wright in N Cyprus
Brian Wright fled to northern Cyprus and lived there in exile

It was a worldwide hunt which took 11 years and spanned Ireland, the Caribbean, the US and South America.

It inspired seven separate trials - one of which was the second longest in English criminal history - and led to 19 people being convicted worldwide.

Almost 500 kilos of cocaine with a street value of more than 60m were seized in the UK.

No wonder Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs is calling the investigation into Brian Brendon Wright, who has been handed a 30-year jail sentence, as one without parallel in UK drugs law enforcement.

'Most sophisticated ever'

Wright, 60, was found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court of conspiracy to smuggle and supply drugs.

"UK Customs investigators have succeeded in dismantling what is probably the most sophisticated and successful global cocaine trafficking organisation ever to target the UK," a Customs official told the BBC.

Their investigation resulted in successful prosecutions at all levels of the conspiracy, from the Colombian suppliers, to the transporters, to members of the UK distribution network, and ultimately the head of that network, Brian Brendon Wright.

The first casualty of Wright's drugs empire - 600 kilos of cocaine seized in Cork, Ireland, by customs officers in November 1996 - was initially viewed as a "result" by investigators.

Euan Stewart, director of operations at Revenue & Customs said: "We thought at the time it was a fairly good result but in fact the job of dismantling Wright's organisation had only just begun."

Some of the cash which was confiscated by Customs
Brian Wright is believed to have made millions from drugs

But trying to bring Wright to justice was a mammoth task.

Wright closeted himself within a world of luxury and affluence - including a home in west London's exclusive Chelsea Harbour - and he always kept a safe distance from the dirty world of international drugs smuggling.

"He surrounded himself with trusted people such as relatives, family and friends including his son and his ex son-in-law," said a Customs official working on the case. "This was a disciplined and professional crew."

His son, Brian Anthony Wright, arranged for drug movements from the Caribbean to the UK.

Early morning arrest

Paul Shannon was Wright's ex son-in-law and another part of the drugs network. He was involved in selling drugs and was described as a "gofer" within the organisation.

But it was the arrest of his "right hand man" Kevin Hanley by Metropolitan Police in the early hours of 29 November 1998, that led to the unravelling of the gang.

Hanley was found with 29 kilos of cocaine in the boot of his car - with a street value of 2m - and paperwork which tied him to other drug consignments.

Wright had lost the person responsible for moving, storing and distributing the network's haul of cocaine.

Chelsea Harbour
Wright spent much of his time in luxurious Chelsea Harbour

Without the assistance of Hanley, Wright was forced to break cover for the first time and meet directly with his South American counterparts.

Already under surveillance, this meeting in Sloane Square gave investigators enough evidence to search his property in England, prompting Wright to flee the country and spend the next three years in Northern Cyprus.

Meanwhile, with the help of their US counterparts, customs officials rounded up key prosecution witnesses to help demonstrate the international dimension of Wright's drugs network.

They included Jim Goodrich, a prize-winning round-the-world yachtsman from California, who had been trafficking drugs in yachts around the world since he was 19. He helped Wright smuggle cocaine into the UK.

Alex de Cubas, a Cuban-American, dealt directly with Hanley in supplying 1,000kgs of cocaine in 1998 on to UK shores.

He was always looking for new ways to smuggle drugs and, together with his trusted friend Wayne Dillon, designed and built an amphibious submarine in the Colombian jungle capable of smuggling 2,000kgs of cocaine from Colombia to America.

The submarine was constructed in such a way that it could walk on land to get down to the beach.

But on its maiden voyage, the vessel sank off the coast of Colombia, with Dillon and the cocaine aboard.

Following Wright's conviction, the job for customs now is to recover the hundreds of millions of pounds his gang made from their worldwide illicit drugs trade.

Brian Anthony Wright was found guilty of drugs importation and sentenced to 16 years; Paul Shannon pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply and sentenced to five years; Kevin Hanley pleaded guilty to drugs importation and conspiracy to supply. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Jim Goodrich is serving 18 years in a US prison for drugs offences. Alex de Cubas is serving 30 years in a US prison for drugs offences.

Brian Brendon Wright has now been given a sentence that will ensure he sees out the rest of his days in jail.

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