Page last updated at 21:27 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Gang smuggled 62m cannabis hidden in flower boxes

A gang member unloading drugs in Marlborough Gardens
The gang stored cannabis in lock-up garages

A gang of 12 men smuggled skunk cannabis worth £62m to the UK hidden in boxes of flowers from Holland.

The drugs were smuggled through ports in Essex and Hull and the haul was unpacked and stored in lock-up garages in south-west London and Surrey.

The gang was led by Terrence Bowler, 40, of Kingston, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import controlled drugs and laundering the proceeds of crime.

Two other "directors" admitted the same charges at Southwark Crown Court.

Peter Moran, 37, of Fulham, west London, and Mark Kinnimont, 40, of Surbiton, south-west London, along with Bowler, formed the so-called board of directors of the operation.

The drugs operation, which used a bureau de change in east London to launder profits, was cracked after a 14-month undercover police operation, the jury heard.

Money found in a safe at Deer Park
In the floor of one premises was a safe containing £225,000, of which £60,000 was going mouldy
Det Ch Insp Steve Wallace

The gang initially smuggled the cannabis through a ferry port in Harwich, Essex, and stored the goods at a warehouse in Chatham, Kent.

But after police intercepted a £750,000 consignment in July 2008, the gang changed their route and shipped the drugs to Hull, storing them in a warehouse in Leeds temporarily, before transporting them to various lock-up garages in Kingston, Worcester Park, Epsom and Ashtead, where the skunk cannabis was unpacked and stored.

Liam Salter, 39, of Tadworth, Surrey, David Couchman, 38, of Southwark, south London, and Timothy Sullivan, 38, of Epsom, Surrey, formed the next tier in the hierarchy. All three pleaded guilty to the same charges as the ringleader.

In two years, the gang smuggled in 88 shipments from Holland.

At the peak of their operation, the gang was bringing in 250kg (551lb) of the highly potent cannabis strain every week, enough for 225,000 street deals.

'Grotesque profits'

The gang, who kept no records of any transactions, ended up with so much cash they forgot £60,000, which went mouldy in an underground safe in a garage in Kingston.

Police believe much of the laundered money was wired to accounts in Pakistan and Dubai.

Det Ch Insp Steve Wallace said the gang had "cornered the market" for skunk in England and were making "grotesque profits" and enjoyed lavish lifestyles.

(Top l-r) Terrence Bowler, Peter Moran, Mark Kinnimont; (bottom l-r) Liam Salter, David Couchman and Timothy Sullivan
The gang smuggled cannabis in flower boxes from Holland

He said: "So much cash was generated by the venture that during our searches we found cash rotting away.

"In the floor of one premises was a safe containing £225,000, of which £60,000 was going mouldy.

"There was so much cash lying around that they did not know what to do with it. We took the ruined money to the Bank of England as it was no good to anybody."

Asim Bashir, 35, of Ilford, was found guilty of money laundering, while driver James Hay, 31, of Ashtead, was convicted of possession with intent to supply controlled drugs.

Roger Alexander, 44, of High Wycombe, Peter Brown, 37, of Kingston, and Barrie Burn, 59, of Hinton Road, Bristol, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply controlled drugs.

Another driver for the gang, Andrew West, 36, of Tadworth, also admitted money laundering.

Mandy Cripps, 34, and Peter Gilmour, 36, both from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Richard Seville, 42, of Islington, north London, and Lindsay Graham, 42, of Sutton, south London, were cleared of any involvement with the gang.

All those found guilty will be sentenced later this month.

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