Attleborough man jailed for more than nine years for drugs smuggling
A Norfolk man has today been jailed for more than nine years after trying to smuggle cannabis worth an estimated �12 million into Britain on board a luxury yacht.
Al Turner, of Attleborough, was jailed with three other men after three and a half tonnes of the drug were found hidden by investigators after they tracked the Dutch-registered vessel, MV Majestic, for 12 hours at sea.
The 53-year-old, of Hargham Heath, Attleborough, was this afternoon jailed for nine and a half years at Hove Crown Court.
The drug smugglers are believed to have set off from north Africa and came under the suspicion of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) when it was spotted off Falmouth, Cornwall.
The 56ft yacht was tailed by a UKBA patrol vessel for 100 nautical miles up the English Channel before being intercepted off the Isle of Wight and escorted into Newhaven Harbour, East Sussex, on July 24.
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During a search of the �40,000 vessel, packages of cannabis were found stashed in two holding tanks accessed through deck hatches.
The haul represents the second largest cannabis seizure in the south east so far this year, said the UKBA.
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Turner, Mark Timothy, 59, of Sandown Close, Clacton, Essex, skipper Johna Bouma, 64, and Franciscus De Geus, 66, both from Amsterdam, pleaded guilty last month to one count each of possession of a controlled Class B drug on board a ship.
Sentencing at Hove Crown Court, Judge Anthony Scott-Gall, jailed Turner, Timothy and Bouma to nine and a half years, and De Geus, who is suffering from terminal cancer, to five years.
All four embarked on the smuggling plan because they were in debt and were short of money, the court heard.
The judge told them: 'You were playing for very high stakes and you lost, and you will have to pay your debt to society by way of punishment.
'It was careful and cleverly executed, and you were deliberately covering your tracks.'
In mitigation, defence counsel Rossano Scamardella, said Turner's wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer and now faces reconstructive surgery.
He added that Turner hoped the smuggling of cannabis would solve his financial problems following a lengthy legal dispute over a property which left him in debt.
Mr Scamardella said: 'The great shame is that he will not be there to help her through what will be an agonising period in her life.'
A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing will take place at a later date and the drugs confiscated, along with the yacht, which the UK Border Agency said was worth �2 million.
Following the case, Malcolm Bragg, assistant director from the UK Border Agency's criminal and financial investigation team, said: 'This is an excellent example of how our efforts in securing the border stops drugs and other dangerous items from entering the UK - in this case before they even reached the British mainland.
'The use of the Majestic shows how smugglers will try to pass themselves off as innocent boaters in order to sneak past our controls.
'That's why we work closely with members of the boating community to help identify potential risks and safeguard the UK from the harmful trade in illegal goods.
'Our efforts have helped bring an international crime gang to justice and the message is clear: we will investigate anyone who tries to smuggle banned substances through the UK border.'