Liverpool

Miriam Margolyes' cottage rented by helicopter drugs gang

Lance Kennedy, Robert Stewart and Stephen Maddocks Image copyright Police handout
Image caption Helicopter flights were traced to ringleader Lance Kennedy (left) who was jailed along with Robert Stewart and Stephen Maddocks and nine others

A cottage owned by actress Miriam Margolyes was the secret helicopter drop-off point for millions of pounds worth of cocaine, a court has heard.

Liverpool Crown Court heard Merseyside gangsters rented the isolated holiday home near Dover and got Dutch pilots to fly in drugs from the Continent.

The gang supplied an organised crime group in the North East with drugs with an estimated wholesale value of £17m ($22m).

The gang of 12 was jailed on Friday.

'Selfishness beyond contemplation'

The court heard between December 2015 and April 2016 500kg (1,100lb) of Class A drugs were brought in by two Dutch pilots who deviated chartered flights to drop off the drugs to waiting gang members at rented holiday cottages.

Among them was Gun Emplacement Cottage. a holiday cottage above the White Cliffs of Dover, which the ganged rented from celebrated actress Margolyes, who played Professor Sprout in Harry Potter.

There was no suggestion the actress knew anything about the gang's activities.

The court heard pilots also made deliveries to other cottages in Kent, Marlow-on-Thames in Buckinghamshire and Waltham Abbey in Essex.

Image copyright Police handout
Image caption Two Dutch pilots deviated chartered flights to drop off the drugs to waiting gang members at rented holiday cottages
Image caption The gangsters rented a home owned by actress Miriam Margolyes to use as a drugs drop-off

Jailing the gang Judge Sophie McKone said ringleader Lance Kennedy, 32, arranged for the drugs to be brought in by helicopter "for supply... throughout the UK but particularly the North East and Scotland".

As well as using helicopters the "sophisticated" gang also used vehicles with hidden compartments including an Audi A6 - which could flip the rear seats down with the cigarette lighter.

She said the gang "cynically reaped the rewards" of the drugs operation - said to have a street value far greater than the wholesale value of £17m - "all out of greed".

"It is selfishness beyond contemplation," she added.

Kyra Badman, prosecuting, told the court the gang had employed a cash counter, Steven Maddocks, to count and launder the vast amounts of cash generated by the wholesale supply of drugs.

She said the defendants communicated via encrypted mobile phones also dropped off by the helicopter pilots.

Miss Badman said the plot was foiled by Cleveland Police investigating the activities of an associate who was a member of an organised crime gang.

The ringleader Lance Kennedy, of no fixed address but formerly of Wirral, was extradited to face justice - along with another gang member Robert Stewart - after fleeing to Thailand.

They were arrested trying to enter the Ukraine from Moldova.

Kennedy, who admitted conspiracy to supply drugs, was sentenced to 18 years and four months in jail.

Image copyright Police handout
Image caption The gang used vehicles with hidden compartments including an Audi A6

Stewart, also of no fixed address, was given a prison sentence of 13 years and eight months after pleading guilty to the same offence.

Money counter Maddocks, 32, of Platt Grove, Rock Ferry, Wirral, who admitted money laundering, was jailed for four years.

Other gang members received sentences for conspiracy to supply ranging from 14 years three months to eight years eight months in jail.

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