The gang devised an elaborate plot involving a military airfield and coded text messages between smugglers on opposite sides of the English Channel.
Cocaine with an estimated street value of £3.5m was found on board a light aircraft which had flown from the French resort of Le Touquet when it touched down at Mona Airfield, Anglesey, in July 2009.
Officers from North Wales Police met the aircraft and carried out a search of the plane which revealed 14 kilos of the Class A drug.
UK Border Agency investigators later seized a mobile phone which carried coded text messages between the conspirators. It led to further examination of phone records, establishing the involvement of others in the plot.
Following a two-month trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the plane’s owner David Watson was last month found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.
Michael Cahillane, had previously admitted the same charge. A third man, Richard McArthur, had denied knowing the drugs were cocaine, but admitted a charge of smuggling cannabis.
The three men were today sentenced at the same court. Watson received 20 years, Cahillane 16 years and McArthur six years.
Jim Jarvie, deputy director at the UK Border Agency’s crime directorate, said: ‘This was clearly a significant smuggling operation, worth millions of pounds to the people involved. They clearly thought that arriving a small airfield would ensure they were able to by-pass law enforcement controls. This was not the case.
‘The cocaine was destined for the north west of England. Together with the police, the UK Border Agency has made sure that these drugs have not reached the streets and the key players brought to account.’
Details of the smugglers are as follows:
- David Watson, 54, of Rainsough Brow, Prestwich, Greater Manchester - sentenced to 20 years after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine
- Michael Cahillane, 45, of Stanley Road, Stockport (formerly of Tyrone, Northern Ireland) - sentenced to 16 years after admitting conspiracy to smuggle cocaine
- Richard McArthur, 45, of Barn Mills, Carrickfergus, Belfast, Northern Ireland - sentenced to six years after admitting smuggling cannabis
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.