Northern Ireland

Carrickfergus and Tyrone men flew cocaine into UK

Light aircraft
Image caption The aircraft carried 14kg of cocaine from France

Three men, including one from Carrickfergus and another originally from Tyrone have been jailed for trying to smuggle £3.5m of drugs into the UK.

They used a military airfield and sent coded text messages between smugglers in two countries.

Police found 14kg of cocaine on a light aircraft which had flown from France to Wales in July 2009.

The three were jailed for a total of 42 years following an investigation by the UK Border Agency.

Officers from North Wales Police met the aircraft when it touched down at Mona Airfield, Anglesey, and carried out a search of the plane which revealed the stash of Class A drugs.

Coded text messages between the conspirators were later found on a mobile phone seized by UK Border Agency investigators. The find prompted a further examination of phone records, establishing the involvement of others in the plot.

Richard McArthur, 45, of Barn Mills, Carrickfergus, Belfast, was sentenced to six years after admitting smuggling cannabis.

Michael Cahillane, 45, of Stanley Road, Stockport, formerly of Tyrone, was sentenced to 16 years after admitting conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.

'Significant'

The third man, David Watson, 54, of Rainsough Brow, Prestwich, Greater Manchester, was sentenced to 20 years after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.

Following a two-month trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the plane's owner David Watson was found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine last month.

Michael Cahillane, had previously admitted the same charge.

Richard McArthur, had denied knowing the drugs were cocaine, but admitted a charge of smuggling cannabis.

Jim Jarvie, deputy director at the UK Border Agency's Crime Directorate, said it had been a "significant smuggling operation".

"They clearly thought that arriving at a small airfield would ensure they were able to bypass law enforcement controls. This was not the case," he said.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it is now looking to confiscate the assets of those involved.

A fourth defendant, Matthew Lockwood, 30, of Leach Mews, Prestwich, Greater Manchester, is due to be sentenced on Monday 13 June having previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.