TWO organised crime gangs who tried to use a corrupt shipping firm manager at Portsmouth’s docks to import cocaine worth millions of pounds are now behind bars.
The News can today reveal that since 2011, 10 people have received sentences totalling more than 140 years for the conspiracies.
The extent of the four-year probe can be laid bare for the first time after reporting restrictions were lifted at Winchester Crown Court.
Both groups targeted Portsmouth man Shaun Wilson, 46, a corrupt dock worker who knew how to bypass security procedures.
In one conspiracy a group tried to import cocaine in a container of pineapples from Costa Rica.
In the other, conspirators tried to bring a haul of the class A drug into the country hidden in bananas.
The groups met separately with Wilson on numerous occasions in service stations, pubs and parks to plan importations of cocaine, unaware they were under surveillance by National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators.
The NCA said the shipment was timed to coincide with Wilson’s shifts so he could remove the drugs without detection.
But neither group managed to get their plans off the ground.
One failed when their first batch, totalling 57lbs (26kg) was seized during an operation in November 2010. All group members were arrested. The NCA said the capture of Wilson during the operation prevented the second group succeeding with their plan to import cocaine hidden in a container of bananas.
Further arrests were made in March 2011 and those involved were later convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine.
Wilson, of Madeira Road, Portsmouth, was found guilty in September 2011 of the first conspiracy to import cocaine and was jailed for 14 years. He pleaded guilty to the second conspiracy and received a concurrent eight-year sentence.
Gerry McGowan, NCA operations manager, said: ‘Wilson abused his position of trust by providing the groups with details of ships, routes and times. He was going to ensure he was on duty to guarantee safe removal of the drugs. The long-term plan was to import vast quantities of cocaine on a regular basis.
‘Protecting our borders is a priority for the NCA. We will be relentless in pursuing criminals who try to bring drugs into the country, however long it takes, and wherever they try to hide.’
Reporting restrictions were lifted on Friday when Audley Powell, of London, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail.
Powell was on the run until November when investigators found him in Jamaica and brought him back to the UK. He admitted conspiracy to import cocaine.
Crime group members jailed for the first cocaine conspiracy include Roy Godber, 64, of Essex, and David Roberts, 61, of Essex, who both went on the run while on trial in September 2011.
They were traced to Malta following a year-long hunt by investigators and were extradited last year after serving jail time for possession of false passports.
Godber and Roberts are each serving 20-year jail sentences. Co-conspirators Jason Flisher, 43, of Kent, Richard Edwards, 51, of London, and Eric Ward, 51, of Copythorn Road, Portsmouth, are also behind bars.
Ward is serving 10 years after admitting conspiracy to import cocaine in September 2011. Flisher is serving 16 years for the same charge, and Edwards is serving a 20-year stretch. In the second group Donald Chambers, 55, of London, was jailed for 13 years and Norman Burton, 57, of London, received a 14-year jail sentence — both convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine.
Errol Heibner, 69, of London, received a 14-year sentence after being convicted on the same charge in August 2012. The NCA said Louis Crawford, 25, of Essex, and Anthony Leigh, 30, of Essex, were arrested at the Channel Tunnel as they were about to leave the UK.
They were travelling in a car containing £300,000 hidden in a purpose-built compartment under the boot.
The men admitted money laundering in November 2011 and received 10-month jail sentences suspended for two years and were given 150 hours of community service.