Cornwall

Cocaine smuggling Bianca skipper found guilty

Michael McDermott, David Pleasants and Gerald Van de Kooij Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption Gerald Van de Kooij, Michael McDermott and David Pleasants were arrested off the coast of Cornwall

The skipper of a fishing boat has been convicted of one of Britain's biggest-ever cocaine smuggling operations.

Michael McDermott, 68, from Waterford, Ireland, was found guilty of trying to import over a tonne of cocaine, with a street value of about £80m.

Two other men, David Pleasants, 57, from Grimsby, and Gerald Van de Kooij, 27, from Amersfoort, Netherlands, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

All three will be sentenced at Bristol Crown Court next month.

More on the cocaine court case and other news from Devon and Cornwall

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Media captionThe skipper of a boat found smuggling almost a tonne of cocaine has been found guilty.

Thirty-eight bales of cocaine were found hidden under bags of sand and gravel in the boat's fish hold, in what is believed to be the third biggest-ever haul of the drug in British waters.

The trawler was intercepted as it entered UK territorial waters off the coast of Cornwall and brought into Falmouth on 18 August 2016.

Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption Almost 40 bales of cocaine were found on board the Bianca
Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption The seizure was the biggest in British waters in 2016

The Border Force had tracked the vessel for more than 24 hours, acting on intelligence from the National Crime Agency (NCA).

It is believed to have taken the drugs on board from another boat south of Ireland before turning back to the UK.

Image caption The trawler was escorted into Falmouth in August 2016

Both Pleasants and Van de Kooij admitted drug importing offences, but McDermott denied the charge, claiming he had been forced into shipping them.

Mark Harding, senior investigating officer from the NCA's border investigation team, described McDermott as "a crucial link in a chain that leads from cocaine manufacturers in South America to drug dealers in the UK".

"In stopping this consignment we have prevented further criminality by the gangs who bring violence and exploitation to our streets," he said.

Mike Stepney, director National Operations Border Force, said the prosecution of "this crooked captain and his criminal crew" underlined how close partnership work with the NCA was helping to keep UK communities safe.