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Aylesford dad jailed for 11 years at Canterbury Crown Court over role in drug ring

A fuel company boss who played a "leading role" in directing and organising the sale of a commercial quantity of cocaine has been jailed - as his family branded his punishment "a joke".

Dad of three Michael Wheaton, who has twice previously been locked up for his involvement in illicit drugs, also appeared stunned by his sentence, shaking his head as he sat in the dock at Canterbury Crown Court.

Michael Wheaton of London Road, Ditton, has been jailed for 11 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine
Michael Wheaton of London Road, Ditton, has been jailed for 11 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine

The 41-year-old, of London Road, Ditton near Aylesford, had denied conspiracy to supply cocaine but was convicted by a jury following a trial. He was sentenced on Friday (March 15).

The court heard he was linked to the illegal operation after a drugs courier was stopped by police on the coastbound carriageway of the M20 near Ashford as long ago as January 21, 2019.

Cocaine weighing 1.5kg in total was found which, when divided into two amounts of 70% and 40% purity, had a potential street value of about £100,000.

But having been urged by Wheaton's barrister to reflect the five-year-delay in legal proceedings reaching a conclusion in any jail term imposed, the judge told the crook he could have achieved a substantial reduction simply by admitting his guilt "straightaway".

Wheaton, who runs a diesel supply business, was arrested after police downloaded data from the courier's phone and saw it had been in frequent contact with a pay-as-you-go phone.

Canterbury Crown Court
Canterbury Crown Court

Without subscriber details, Kent Police carried out an extensive investigation and, using cell-site data and ANPR cameras, were able to identify what was described as a "common denominator" - Wheaton.

He later admitted the phone was his but said he shared it with others. It also revealed contact with a third man yet to face trial.

But although the prosecution's assertion Wheaton used his company as a cover for the drug dealing operation was not accepted by the judge, he said on sentencing that a cash business bringing in about £6,500 a week provided evidence that funds were available to buy such quantities of cocaine.

Wheaton had been previously jailed in 2014 for 28 months for his involvement in a cannabis smuggling operation that spanned Spain and the UK, and in 2011 was sentenced to two-and-a-half years' imprisonment for possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

His barrister, Kevin Walsh, told the court however that the married, family man had since turned his life around and, as well as running a successful business was also carer to his cancer-stricken father.

He also pointed out that the delay in proceedings had not been the fault of his client but resulted from the poor health of the co-defendant yet to be tried, as well as the pandemic and the barristers' strike.

"Every day since his arrest he has had this hanging over his head. He knows what 1.5kg is going to get him because he has been to prison," said Mr Walsh.

"But he got out of prison, he has worked hard, he has a business - a legitimate business - and turned his life around."

But on jailing Wheaton for 11 years to gasps from the public gallery, Recorder Paul Taylor KC said: "The evidence shows you were a director and organiser of this drugs operation.

"There is no evidence to indicate anyone was directing you. I find you played a leading role in this offence.

"It has to be said you could have admitted this matter straightaway. It would not have taken so long to come to court and there would have been a substantial reduction in your sentence.

"Therefore, I am not prepared to reduce the sentence for that reason of delay."

Among the several people at court to support Wheaton, one woman could be heard crying as he was locked up while another was heard to remark "What a joke" before leaving the courtroom.

Confiscation proceedings are expected to take place later this year.

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