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Pregnant beauty therapist caught with cocaine haul at Dartford Tunnel after handover outside pub in Bearsted

ByJulia Roberts

A pregnant beauty therapist caught with high purity cocaine with a wholesale value of £1.5million has been jailed for 10 years.

Stephanie Nelson who owns Cheshire-based Porsche Cosmetics Ltd, was stopped by Kent Police as she drove her Hyundai car through the Dartford Tunnel river crossing on Monday, June 10 this year.

Inside a 'sophisticated and magnetised' void in the boot, officers found two black holdalls containing 15kg of the class A drug.

Stephanie Nelson
Stephanie Nelson

A court heard the 30-year-old had driven that day from her home in Westbourne Drive, Wilmslow, to a village pub near Maidstone, to collect the cocaine.

Nelson was making the return trip north when police swooped after observing the handover just 20 minutes earlier.

Tom Nicholson, prosecuting, said the boot initially appeared empty, with the void underneath becoming magnetised when the engine was switched on and the glove compartment opened.

But, the 83% pure cocaine, embossed with the words 'Premium 20/20', was soon located.

Nelson, whose private clinic offers non-surgical cosmetic procedures, was also in possession of a BQ Aquaris encrypted phone described as 'highly sophisticated and virtually impossible' to crack.

John Markham
John Markham

Maidstone Crown Court was told earlier this week that the same Hyundai had been seen driving to Folkestone and waiting in a car park on several occasions leading up to her arrest.

The former nursing degree student sobbed in the dock having pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine.

As well as now being five months' pregnant, the brunette was said to be the sole carer for her seven-year-old son.

Her barrister told the court she was the victim of a controlling and physically abusive ex-partner, who had 'persuaded her to collect something' on his behalf.

Christopher Martin, defending, said she neither looked in the bags nor knew what they contained.

"It is no exaggeration to say she was and remains scared of her ex-boyfriend," he added.

15kg of cocaine were found in the car
15kg of cocaine were found in the car

But passing sentence, Judge Philip Statman said there was 'very little evidence of recent pressure or coercion'.

He told Nelson she had embarked on 'a deliberate course of conduct for financial gain' which had to be marked by a substantial prison sentence despite the profound impact on both her son and unborn child.

"Believe me when I say it is no easy task for any judge to separate a mother from a child, or indeed sentence on the basis that you will spend the remaining months of your pregnancy and the first years of your unborn child's life when it is born detained in custody.

"I appreciate that has a profound effect both on your unborn child and also on you."

Judge Statman, who described Nelson as a 'highly intelligent and good, caring mother', was told her son will now be cared for by his grandmother.

He also asked that she be allowed to complete her pregnancy 'in the best possible way' and able to remain with her baby 'as long as the prison authorities allow'.

Also appearing in court via prison TV link was her co-defendant John Markham.

Police pictures show where the drugs were hidden
Police pictures show where the drugs were hidden

He had handed over the cocaine to her in the car park of The Yeoman pub in Ashford Road, Bearsted.

The 53-year-old from Haileybury Avenue, Enfield, Middlesex, also admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine and was also jailed for 10 years.

The suggestion he was paid just £106 for the drop-off to Nelson was disputed by the judge however, who said 'rich-pickings' awaited all those involved.

He told both defendants: "Individuals such as you need to perform the critical role in ensuring the safe passage of drugs from the coast, through county lines and to the northern part of England.

"Individuals such as you must be highly trusted because the value of this load was vast.

"Cocaine is a highly addictive and pernicious drug. It brings with it misery and degradation to its users.

"The drugs market, if I may say so, is probably as we speak the most powerful, illicit market in the world at the present time.

"Each of you were trusted and no conspiracy of this kind could function without your effective role."

Markham was also found with a similar Aquaris phone.

Police pictures show where the drugs were hidden
Police pictures show where the drugs were hidden

"They are highly sophisticated, encrypted handsets which contained Dutch SIM cards making it impossible to get into and to get call data from," said Mr Nicholson.

"It is considered extremely unlikely that it will be possible to get any data from these phones.

The court heard however that despite her fear of her former partner, Nelson was prepared to assist police by giving them the password.

Mr Nicholson said police watched as Nelson pulled into the pub car park just before 6.30pm on June 10, and walked over to Markham's small, white van to speak to him.

"He opened the rear door, removed a black holdall, and gave it to Nelson who placed it in her vehicle," he told the court.

"Markham gave her a second holdall and she placed it in the rear (of her car) and then left.

"About 20 minutes later the Hyundai was stopped in the Dartford Tunnel by Kent Police and Nelson was arrested."

She and her car were then taken to the nearby Thurrock Services in Essex for a drugs search.

"There was a sophisticated hide within her vehicle - a magnetised void space within the boot," explained the prosecutor.

"Once the engine was turned on and the glove compartment open, the void would magnetise.

"So when police opened the boot it looked as if there was nothing. But in fact the two bags had been hidden in the hide."

Nelson was said to have set up her aesthetics practice in February last year after completing two years of her medical degree.

Mr Martin said she was from a 'good, law-abiding' family and now engaged to be married.

But he told the court her previous partner was controlling and violent.

"She was ultimately persuaded by him to go and collect something for him." Mr Martin

On one occasion Nelson was said to have suffered a suspected fractured eye socket having been punched in the face.

That relationship eventually ended last year, but while she was at work this year she was approached, handed the phone, given the password and told her ex-boyfriend would call her.

Describing her role in the drugs operation as 'merely a courier', Mr Martin added: "She was ultimately persuaded by him to go and collect something for him.

"She was given a postcode and went and collected the bags. She didn't look inside and didn't know what they contained."

Dad-of-three Markham was said to have become involved out of 'financial desperation rather than gain'.

Gregory Wedge, defending, said the family had returned from living abroad four years ago after a failed business venture.

But he was unable to find permanent work and, when faced with losing their rented home, felt he had 'no choice' but to also act as 'courier or gopher'

"He was that desperate that £106 seemed extremely attractive at the time, and is what he was paid for that drop," said Mr Wedge.

"He was given the phone and told to follow instructions. He was under the impression it would just be 3.2kg but realised when given what he was given that it was substantially heavier."

However, on being told the payment figure, Judge Statman retorted: "I have to say I find that hard to accept."

A proceeds of crime hearing will be held in December.

To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

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