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Cocaine worth £9m imported in bananas

Maidstone Crown Court
Maidstone Crown Court

by Keith Hunt

Cocaine with a street value of more than £9 million was smuggled into the country in a consignment of bananas bound for a supermarket, a court heard.

Nearly 37 kilos of the drug was discovered in two large bags on top of containers after arriving from Ecuador at Tilbury docks in Essex.

Also smuggled into the UK on another occasion were over eight million cigarettes, on which more than £1.2 million in excise duty was evaded.

On trial at Maidstone Crown Court are Mark Howie, 46, Andrew Kinnaird, 47, Gary Pucknell, 29, David Kelly, 66, and 54-year-old Lee Garton.

Howie, of Poole, Dorset, Kinnaird, of High Brooms Road, Tunbridge Wells, Pucknell, of Grays, Essex, and Kelly, of Lostock Gralam, Cheshire, deny drug smuggling.

Howie, Kinnaird and Garton, of Fair Lawn, Chestfield, Whitstable, deny conspiracy to cheat the revenue and evading duty.

Derek Tunstead, 41, of Eltham, south east London, has admitted the charges.

Shane Collery, prosecuting, said Howie received "healthy returns" on business investments between 2003 and 2008 from property development but then one of his businesses was wound up with creditors of about £3.5 million.

Howie was declared bankrupt and his position was improved by involvement in crime, said Mr Collery.

Kinnaird and Tunstead were employed in haulage but were sacked because of his involvement in theft. Tunstead then worked as a green keeper at a golf club the other side of the QE2 bridge.

Mr Collery said Kelly was a pensioner and Pucknell worked in freight.

The cocaine smuggled was a valuable consignment, ranging from 62 per cent to 78 per cent in purity before being "cut" for distribution on the street.

It was discovered with the bananas in Luton, Bedfordshire, having been smuggled from Ecuador.

Over eight million cigarettes were smuggled in June 2009 and those responsible were intending to bring in "an awful lot more", said Mr Collery.

They arrived in the country in containers from the United Arab Emirates in June 2009. The documentation stated it was children's clothing.

The trial, expected to last eight weeks, continues.

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