Curtis Warren found guilty over plot to smuggle £1m of cannabis into Jersey
Only drug trafficker to make Sunday Times Rich List found guilty alongside five other men and faces 14 years in jail
One of Britain's most notorious criminals was today found guilty of conspiring to smuggle £1m worth of cannabis into Jersey.
Curtis Warren, 46, was Interpol's number one most wanted criminal in the mid 1990s and the only drug trafficker to make it onto the Sunday Times Rich List. He had only been out of prison for five weeks when he was arrested in 2007 by Jersey police, accused of being the ringleader of a six-man gang who were trying to import 180kg of cannabis into the island from Holland via boat from France.
Between 1997 and 2007 Warren was locked up in Holland's highest security jail after being found guilty of conspiring to import £100m worth of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and cannabis, as well as firearms offences. His sentence was lengthened when he killed a fellow prisoner in a fight and was convicted of manslaughter.
Warren showed no emotion as the foreman of the jury delivered the guilty verdict at the royal court in St Helier in Jersey. He will be sentenced on 4 December and faces a maximum term of 14 years. Also found guilty today were five other men: Liverpool-born John Welsh, 43; James O'Brien, 45, from Glasgow; Jason Woodward, 22, from Dartford; and Paul Hunt, 27, and Oliver Lucas, 23, both from Jersey.
The result is a major coup for Jersey's beleaguered police force, which has been under pressure for alleged mismanagement of the historic child abuse investigation on the island. It is a victory, too, for the UK's Serious Organised Crime Squad (Soca), which was keeping tabs on Warren under the auspices of its Lifetime Offender Management Programme.
Warren was accused of orchestrating the conspiracy before he even left his Dutch cell. Soca, along with the Dutch prison authorities, gathered what it described today as "first class intelligence material indicating that Warren was still engaged in drug trafficking activity whilst in prison." As the investigation developed, it became clear that Jersey was to be the focus of Warren's next big job.
After Warren left prison in June 2007, he was kept under close surveillance. During the five weeks he was a free man, he made 1,500 phone calls, 112 from public phone boxes, and was secretly recorded talking about what he stood to gain from the Jersey plot. Along with one of his co-accused, Jonathan Welsh, he also visited a secluded location on Jersey's east coast that the pair agreed would be a good drop-off point for the drugs, which they planned to ship from Holland via the Normandy coast.
Warren was taped referring to the plot as "just a little starter", suggesting that if all went well, bigger importations would follow. But he and his five co-conspirators were arrested before any drugs reached Jersey.
After the verdicts were read out, Bill Hughes, the director general of Soca, said:
"Serious organised criminals don't suddenly stop just because they've been caught once. That's why when a criminal comes onto Soca's radar, they stay there for life. Curtis Warren was a career criminal for whom prison was a temporary setback. He was already planning his next operation from inside prison, and when he was released Soca was waiting, watching and listening. Together with our partners in the States of Jersey police we've stopped Curtis Warren's plans in their tracks. Criminals need to know that this is a different world now – lifetime management is a reality."
The acting chief of Jersey police, David Warcup, said: "The conviction of the men involved in this trial marks the end of a complex police operation, which has seen officers from the States of Jersey police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Merseyside police, France, Holland and Belgium, working together.
"We hope that the conviction of the men sends out a clear message to others that we will continue to tackle those responsible for the importation of drugs into the island.
"The conviction is also a reflection of the hard work, dedication and commitment of all the officers and agencies involved in this enquiry."
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 October 2009 11.38 BST