7/7 firefighter Simon Ford jailed for drug smuggling

A firefighter commended for his work in the 7 July London bombings has been jailed for 14 years for smuggling 110kg of cocaine into the UK.

Simon Ford, 41, was one of 33 people convicted for being part of a drugs and money laundering operation.

It followed a series of raids by police on properties in London, Surrey, Kent and Hertfordshire in 2008.

Ford was jailed last year but reporting restrictions were imposed while 16 related trials were concluded.

Southwark Crown Court heard the operation was run out of Royal Oak Taxis in Paddington, west London, an outwardly legitimate firm that rented and repaired black cabs.

But behind the scenes was a massive operation for organised crime networks, estimated to have laundered between £70m and £80m.

Cocaine on beach

The man at the centre of the Royal Oak Taxis network was its owner, a 47-year-old middleman, Eyad Iktilat, who drove a Ferrari and a Bentley with personalised number plates.

Among his customers was Ford who received a London Fire Brigade Gold Award for rescuing people after a bomb ripped apart a bus in Tavistock Square.

But after the 7/7 attacks he suffered personal problems and became a cocaine user.

Image caption Eyad Iktilat owned Royal Oak Taxis

He was caught at his flat in Chertsey, Surrey, with 110kg of cocaine which had just been landed on a beach in Kent.

Police said drugs seized in the investigation had a street value of about £10m.

As officers searched the flat dozens of phone calls were made to three pay-as-you-go mobile phones as worried criminal contacts tried to find out why the pair were running late.

Ford was one of 22 people arrested when officers from the Metropolitan Police Special Intelligence Section (SIS), supported by more than 500 colleagues, raided the homes.

The simultaneous raids, the largest conducted by British police, employed a mechanical digger to ram through a wall of one Uxbridge home and followed 10 months of surveillance and bugging.

The investigation, known as Operation Eaglewood, began in April 2007 after undercover police officers followed two known drug smugglers as they met Iktilat.

They discovered "money mules" brought bags of up to £500,000 cash to the taxi company for it to be converted into 500 euro notes via Euro Foreign Exchange (EFX), a corrupt currency exchange company in Paddington.

Investigators found EFX manager Jean-Claude Frigieri, 56, bought hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of 500 euro notes from a banknote wholesaler known as Interchange.

British foreign exchange bureaux have since stopped selling the notes because of their use to organised criminals, who value the fact it is easy to conceal and smuggle them.

Iktilat, 47, of Levita House, NW1, was sentenced to a total of 30 years having been convicted of five counts of money laundering and a series of drug offences and four counts of money laundering.

The gang's main banker, Iraq-born Maythen Al Ansari, 42, was jailed for three years for money laundering after his home in Uxbridge, north-west London, was raided by police who used a digger to smash down a wall.

The money laundering and drug distribution network was linked to up to 10 criminal gangs and had interests in Colombia, Spain, Israel, India, Dubai, Morocco and other north African states.

Det Supt Steve Richardson said the operation dealt a "huge blow" to the British class A drugs industry.

He said: "These criminals had been living the lives of wealthy businessmen through their criminal activity.

"The lives they are now leading could not be more different."

Two suspects, Carlos Tabares and Nicholas John "Peter" Tayler, are still wanted by police for offences including money laundering, drug trafficking and conspiracy to supply cocaine.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it was the biggest ever criminal case in London handled by the CPS and the Metropolitan Police.

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Media captionThe gang was jailed after police carried out dawn raids in London, Surrey and Kent in 2008

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