Hugh Webb found guilty of his part in drugs supply ring worth up to £8.5m after police swoop in Great Chart
A lorry driver has been convicted of involvement in a plot to supply cannabis resin worth up to £8.5m on the street.
The 1,701kg of the drug was the biggest haul by police in Kent, Maidstone Crown Court heard.
Officers swooped on a lorry driven by 52-year-old Hugh Webb in a country lane in Ashford on March 8 and discovered the cannabis resin in two large containers.
From left to right, Danny Malone, Hugh Webb, Martin Merritt, Michael Malone
It had just been collected from an industrial unit at Daniels Water Farm in Great Chart.
Webb, of Standfield Gardens, Dagenham, Essex, denied conspiracy to supply cannabis but was convicted by a majority of 10 to 2 after almost 12 hours deliberation by the jury.
In the dock with him at the start of the trial was Marek Sieprawski, of Gladstone Drive, Oldbury, West Midlands.
The 34-year-old denied a similar charge in relation to 200kgs of the drug seized in Paddock Wood four days earlier.
However, Mr Sieprawski was cleared of any involvement by the same jury after almost seven hours deliberation.
Drugs stashed inside metal boxes in a lorry
The court heard two others, Michael Malone and Martin Merritt, were arrested at the scene with Webb.
Malone, of Rutland Road, Hove, East Sussex, his brother Danny, of Collier Street, Tonbridge, and Merritt, of Grosvenor Road, Dagenham, admitted conspiracy to supply cannabis resin at an earlier hearing.
Prosecutor Steven Perian said Danny Malone, 43, was at the very heart of the supply chain and featured in both seizures of the drug.
Danny Malone had rented a unit at the farm in February. His brother told the owner on March 7 he wanted to unload the unit.
The lorry driven by Webb arrived the next day, along with a Mercedes. Two large containers were loaded on to it and Webb drove off, followed by the car driven by Malone, 46, with Merritt, 39, as a passenger.
Some of the huge haul of cannabis resin found by police
Mr Perian said officers pounced, stopping the lorry in nearby Sandy Lane on the A28.
The jury was shown video film of the Glen Gibbard Transport lorry and containers and Webb in handcuffs nearby.
He told officers: “I am just doing a job. My boss doesn’t know I am doing this.”
He added there was a “monkey” (£500) in his jacket, which was for making the pick-up.
After his arrest Webb, who had been an HGV driver for more than 30 years, said in a prepared statement that he didn't know the two men in the Mercedes and took the job "in good faith", with no suspicion that there would be drugs in the containers.
Some boxes from the lorry
"If I had known it was drugs, I would have walked away," he added. "The containers were loaded on a forklift. I didn't touch them. I was told I would get another call for the delivery address."
Mr Perian said the cannabis retrieved from boxes was worth up to just over £2m wholesale but between £4.89m and £8.5m on the street.
The other seizure was four days earlier on March 4 near Paddock Wood railway station.
Officers moved in as Danny Malone and Mr Sieprawski arrived in separate vans and stopped in a lay-by in Queen Street. They discovered 200kg of cannabis worth £200,000 wholesale.
Mr Perian said Mr Sieprawski, who is originally from Poland, had driven from the West Midlands to make the delivery.
Sandy Lane, Great Chart in Ashford, where some of the drugs were seized
Giving evidence, he told the jury he believed he was collecting cigarettes after being approached by a man he referred to as 'Adam' in a pub in Oldbury.
Mr Sieprawski admitted making other collections for the same man on other occasions.
Asked by the prosecutor whether "alarm bells rang", he replied: "Quite the opposite. I felt relaxed at this moment."
Mr Sieprawski added that he didn't know how many boxes he was collecting, and agreed they sounded heavy when they were thrown into his van.
Webb was remanded in custody until he is sentenced next month with Danny Malone, Michael Malone and Merritt.
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