Trio jailed over multimillion-pound drug smuggling operation

Thomas Kavanagh, 54, was described as the head of the operation.

28 March 2022

A man described as being “at the head of” a criminal organisation smuggling cocaine and cannabis into the UK hidden inside items of machinery has been jailed for 21 years.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that the group imported drugs with a street value of more than £30 million into the UK.

Judge Martyn Levett, sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court, said the operation was of a “commercial scale” and that he had “no doubt that the successful importations would have continued” were it not for the authorities intercepting a shipment at Dover in 2017.

Thomas Kavanagh, 54, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, Gary Vickery, 39, of Solihull, and 43-year-old Daniel Canning, who also has an address in Solihull, all admitted at an earlier hearing to conspiring to import class A and B drugs, and money laundering.

Kavanagh, who prosecutors described as “at the head of the organisation”, was jailed for 21 years.

He blew a kiss from the secure dock to family members sat in the public gallery before he was led to the cells.

Vickery, who was “immediately beneath” Kavanagh, was jailed for 20 years.

Canning, who was “subordinate to Vickery”, and also admitted possessing a firearm and ammunition, was jailed for 19 years and six months.

He looked at the ceiling as his sentence was read out.

Judge Mr Levett said that a “business was being used as a cover for the importations and premises were leased I suspect for that very purpose”.

He adding that there was “a very substantial gain to be made”.

Drugs would come into the UK hidden inside machinery, which would exit the country filled with cash, in what the judge described as a “carousel of drugs in and cash out”.

Irish police seized documents identifying a UK-based freight transport company in January 2017, while making a number of arrests in Dublin in which they seized “a significant quantity of firearms and class A drugs”, prosecutor Riel Karmy-Jones had told the court.

The NCA began an investigation and in October 2017 customs officials at Dover seized a consignment of 15kg of cocaine and 200kg of cannabis hidden inside two large Tarmac removal machines, the barrister said.

The judge said that “very significant efforts were taken to avoid detection”, noting that a gun was recovered from a lead-lined compartment inside a transformer at an industrial unit.

The judge said the trio of defendants had “conspired together” with a fourth man, Martin Byrne, who died before the case reached court.

He ordered for the seized drugs, firearms and ammunition to be destroyed, and said that there will be a Proceeds of Crime hearing at a later date.

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