£80m of cannabis smuggled out of West Hampstead high street
PUBLISHED: 11:25 16 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:25 16 March 2015
A property in West Hampstead's high street was used in what police say is one of the biggest conspiracies to smuggle cannabis into the UK.
The storage facility in West End Lane was used as a delivery address in an operation that saw 28 tonnes of cannabis smuggled into the country over a seven year period – enough for two joints for every UK citizen.
On Friday, two men were jailed for the offences. A third man is still being sought by the police.
Steven McDonald, 32, from Chatham, Kent, and John Wright, 66, from Hounslow, were arrested after 300kg of herbal cannabis disguised as flooring tiles was shipped from the Netherlands on April 24 last year.
Investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), through the joint Organised Crime Partnership team, watched as the load was delivered to an address in Whetstone, north London.
It was signed for by Mr McDonald, who then loaded it into a van and drove it to a row of garages in Wembley, Mr Wright following behind.
As the pair began to open the consignment officers moved in to arrest them. The moment of their arrest can be heard here.
Another 150 kilos of cannabis was found in another garage in the same row.
The two men admitted conspiring to import class B drugs at Luton Crown Court and Mr Wright was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison and Mr McDonald to eight years. Both will also be banned from travelling outside the UK for ten years after their release.
NCA and MPS investigators continue to hunt a third man suspected to be involved in the conspiracy who used a fraudulently obtained British passport in the name of Mark Gamble to rent the garages to unload the cannabis in Wembley and the storage facility in West Hampstead.
Detective Inspector Steve Miles, from the joint National Crime Agency/Metropolitan Police Service Organised Crime Partnership, said: “These men were involved in drug smuggling on a truly industrial scale over a number of years. The potential street value of the cannabis imported as part of this conspiracy would have been in excess of £80 million.
“Using their contacts with criminal networks in the Netherlands they were able to set up elaborate fronts to cover their activities.
“But through our close work with the Dutch authorities and Border Force we were able to unpick that, and disrupt and then dismantle a very significant organised crime group responsible for bringing thousands of kilos of illegal drugs into the UK.”
Anthony Hill, a specialist organised crime lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Such a vast quantity of drugs brings untold misery to communities across the country, breeding further crime and anti-social behaviour.”
Anyone with any information about Mr Gamble can contact the NCA on 0370 4967622.