Published: 17:46, 24 January 2018
An international horse showjumper wept this afternoon as she watched her devoted father jailed as a drugs smuggler.
Jody Van Gerwen broke down when a jury convicted her 52 year old dad Mari of bringing £4m worth of cocaine into Dover hidden in a horsebox.
A judge jailed him for 17 years after telling him he believed some of the money would have been used to fund her successful jumping career - although she would not have known about it.
Van Gerwen – from Mechelen in Holland – had faced a similar charge at Reading Crown Court 18 months ago, but was acquitted by a jury.
The horse dealer – who has his own stables and training centre – had claimed he had been forced under duress to smuggle cocaine into the UK.
In July last year, Van Gerwen arrived at the freight lanes at Dover Eastern Docks with two horses in a horsebox.
Border Force officials quizzed him and he told them the horses were not for jumping or racing and that he was heading to Bracknell with 5,000 euros in his pockets.
Canterbury Crown Court heard how officers were suspicious and began searching a special compartment where they discovered 50 kilos of the Class A drug.
Judge Rupert Lowe told him he had used his horse business as a cover for the smuggling operation, expecting to get substantial sums of money.
“I accept you run a legitimate horse trading business and you spend a good deal of your time running a riding school and assisting his daughter’s career," he said.
He added: “You were convicted by a jury in a very short space of time of importing 50 kilos of cocaine.
“I am confident that you were not the boss of this enterprise but a courier and you got involved in order to make money.
“This trial took place against a background of the very successful career of your daughter Jody as an international showjumper.
“That is an extremely expensive occupation, notwithstanding the sponsorship and prize money and the returns of the rising school and horse-trading business.
“I am confident that at least part of your motivation of you becoming involved was to further the cause of her very expensive career at the highest level.”
Jody, 27, who attended every day of the trial and gave evidence for the defence, heard the judge tell her she was an innocent victim of her father’s drug dealing.
The judge added: “I don’t imagine for a moment that he let her know what he was doing. She has been an innocent victim and she will suffer for this.”
After the hearing, senior investigating officer at the National Crime Agency, Darren Herbert, said: “The organised criminals involved in the distribution of cocaine are often also linked to violence and exploitation.
“They rely heavily on smugglers like Van Gerwen, so his was a key role in a longer, damaging chain.
“We work closely with partners overseas and our Border Force colleagues to target those who seek to undermine the security of the UK border, and bring them to justice.”
Paul Morgan, director of Border Force South East and Europe, said:“Working alongside the NCA, Border Force officers were able to stop a significant amount of illegal drugs from reaching the streets of the UK, where they would have caused significant harm to vulnerable individuals and wider communities.
“This was a sophisticated concealment and demonstrates that Border Force officers and our law enforcement partners need to remain vigilant at all times to prevent illegal importations through the border.”