A man convicted of involvement in a plot to import cocaine into the UK has been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.
Thomas Snell, aged 31, of no fixed abode, was sentenced today (9/6) at Southampton Crown Court.
Snell had pleaded guilty to conspiring to fraudulently avoid the prohibition on the importation of a controlled drug of Class A – cocaine – at a hearing at Southampton Crown Court on 30 March.
Snell’s accomplices Edward Duggin, aged 33, of Norris Way, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, and Justine Romaraog, aged 22, of Talfourd Way, Redhill, Surrey, also pleaded guilty to the same offence previously. Duggin was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and Romaraog to 11 years’ imprisonment at a previous hearing at Southampton Crown Court on 29 April.
The convictions follow a joint investigation by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) and the National Crime Agency with the support of law enforcement partners.
UK Border Force boarded an Azimut 50 Motor Cruiser called Bubble E that the defendants were travelling on in the English Channel off the coast of Falmouth, Cornwall, on 14 October last year.
Officers uncovered that the defendants had been carrying out a ‘practice-run’ by conducting planned interceptions at sea with South American ships in order to assess the viability of collecting jettisoned packages.
Traces of white powder, later confirmed to be cocaine, were found on board the vessel inside voids, indicating that these spaces had been used for the storage of cocaine in the past.
The court heard that on 11 October 2021 the three left Dartmouth, where they had been re-fueling Bubble E, for Brest in France. Two days later the vessel travelled in to the channel where it conducted unusual manoeuvres at sea, close to where a large container ship travelling from South America was sailing.
Messages discovered on Duggin’s mobile phone showed the use of an encrypted application and the content indicated the group’s intention.
The defendants were arrested and subsequently charged on 15 October in connection with the conspiracy.
As the investigation continued it was discovered that Bubble E and its crew – Romaraog and Duggin – departed Southampton Water on 9 September with the intention of meeting a yacht in the English Channel. The purpose of the trip was to take on board two tonnes of cocaine that had been smuggled from South America by the wider organised crime group. However, as a result of an operation by the NCA and UK Border Force, the inbound yacht was intercepted and the drugs discovered.
GPS data recovered from the vessel indicated that it had also carried out suspicious activity near a South American container ship in darkness on another occasion.
Investigating officer Detective Sergeant Dan Hope, of SEROCU, said: “Thomas Snell has received a significant prison sentence and is the final defendant to be sentenced for his involvement in a plot to import extremely large amounts of cocaine across the English Channel and into the shores of the UK.
“Excellent joint working with the National Crime Agency and UK Border Force ensured that this organised crime group was intercepted at sea. This prevented a Class A drug, which has extremely harmful consequences to society, from reaching our streets. We continue to work in partnership to relentlessly tackle the threat that serious and organised crime poses in the South East.”