[FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif] Roxanne Escobales
Friday February 1, 2008
[/FONT] A smuggler who is believed to have imported drugs with a street value of up to £350m, much of it hidden in garden furniture, was today jailed for 26 years.Robert Flook, 46, of Eltham, south-east London, imported cannabis and cocaine in shipments from South Africa. The court heard that Metropolitan police officers discovered eight tonnes of cannabis with a wholesale value of £12m at Felixstowe in September 2006 in the police force's largest ever seizure of the drug.
At Blackfriars crown court, Flook was given the 26-year sentence for trying to ship 150kg of cocaine out of South Africa and into the UK. He was handed a 13-year sentence for the eight tonnes of marijuana he was caught bringing into the UK at the port at Felixstowe. The sentences will be served at the same time.The Met worked with police in South Africa, where Flook's cocaine seizure occurred. It was the second largest cocaine bust in that country. They believe his narcotics trade has been operating since 2001.
Flook used two front businesses to import the drugs. Playaway Events Ltd based in south London and Belvedere, Kent imported the cannabis hidden in garden furniture. P&G Mirrors based in Brixham and Newton Abbey, Devon, brought the cocaine in with mirror shipments.
Three other British men were arrested in Johannesburg at the same time as Flook. Two of them, John Tutton, 56, and Tommy Mackinnon, 35, ran the South African arm of the drug empire through the two dummy businesses. They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison, the longest ever sentences for a drugs offence in South Africa.
The third man, Ernie Smith, 61, was acquitted.
During Flook's trial it was shown the network imported 11 containers containing cannabis between 2001 and 2006, which was valued at £132m wholesale value or £308m street value.
Detective Inspector Craig Turner, who led the sting, said: "These convictions are the result of months of work between law enforcement agencies in the UK and South Africa, and the sentence represents the substantial damage these drugs would have caused."