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Gloucestershire Business News

Scent of flowers masked £1.4 million haul of cannabis, court is told

Cannabis worth £1.4million was smuggled into Britain in a lorry load of Dutch flowers and the scent from the blooms completely masked the drug's telltale aroma, a court heard yesterday.

But the smuggler, John Lader, 51, of Voorschoten in the Netherlands, was caught despite the clever way the vacuum packed cannabis was disguised, Gloucester crown court was told.

Lader avoided an immediate jail term after the court accepted that he believed he was smuggling illicit cigarettes and tobacco rather than cannabis.

He was given a sixteen month jail term suspended for two years

Lader had pleaded guilty to four counts of attempting to fraudulently evade duty on tobacco products between 6th October and 30th October last year.

The prosecution said Police saw him loading boxes from his HGV into a waiting Fiat Doblo van on 29th October in a car park by the junction of the A417 and Burford Road in Cirencester, Glos.

When they stopped him and searched the boxes they found a 'significant quantity of vacuum packed cannabis' in each of them, prosecutor Hannah Squire said.

There were flowers in the boxes to make it look innocent, she added.

"There was absolutely no smell of cannabis," Ms Squire said. "They had been well and truly vacuum packed."

She there were four different 'consignments' of boxes on board, numbered accordingly.

"He had four separate deliveries to make on that day," the prosecutor said.

The man he met in Cirencester, Mohammed Abdulrehman, 25, of Golbourne Ave, Manchester has pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis with intent to supply and attempting to possess cannabis with intent to supply, both on 29th October 2018.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

Ms Squire said Abdulrehman's 'batch was 47 kilos of cannabis'.

In total Lader was found to have 141 kilos of cannabis, with a wholesale value of £705,000 but a street value of £1.4 million.

The prosecutor said it had been established that Lader had made three previous trips in the month bringing drugs into the country in his flower lorry.

However she confirmed that it was accepted he believed he had been smuggling tobacco.

She calculated that a 'notional' figure for tobacco duty evaded based on estimated weights would be between £100,000 and £120,000 across the four trips.

Lader told the police he was paid £1,000 per trip.

"He had been struggling in the flower importing industry," she said. "He would come to the UK once per week.

"He would meet these people at flower auctions. They would give him a cheap phone and instructions. A cheap phone was found in that lorry.

"It tended to be Cirencester he would go to.

"He knew of lots of other lorry drivers who were smuggling tobacco to avoid excise duty.

"The phone was an encrypted mobile phone and to date he has yet to provide details of how to get into that phone."

The court heard that Lader had no previous convictions.

Defence lawyer, Kevin Barry, representing Lader said: "This was believed by him genuinely to be tobacco and not cannabis.

"He admitted to that right from the beginning.

"He is a 51 year old man with a flagging business who was finally tempted to take this foolish course to supplement his income.

"He has led an otherwise blameless life. Working very hard. Making four or five hundred pounds a week once all expenses taken off. Not an easy way to make a living.

"He has done 132 days on remand since his arrest, the equivalent of over an eight month custodial sentence served.

"That has not been easy for him.

"He is in a different country. His family have not been able to visit him. His business has crumbled," Mr Barry said.

The judge remarked: "I should think he has lost everything."

"He has," Mr Barry replied. "His card is well and truly marked.

"In all of those circumstances I would ask your honour to consider a merciful sentence.

"A suspended sentence, to reflect both the seriousness of the offending but also the mitigation.

"In the background here was a well oiled sophisticated smuggling operation.

"His involvement and his benefit was very limited. He was right at the bottom of the ladder and taking all the risks.

"He has paid a high price and has lost everything."

Imposing the suspended jail term, the judge said: "In October of last year you were aged 50, and at that time a man of previous good character.

"There is no record of any involvement with the police in this country or the Netherlands.

"You were a hard working man, and still would be.

"You were trying to run a business. There were difficulties and pressures.

"Nobody would have expected you from that position to end up where you are now.

"Somebody or other got in contact with you with a proposition that you could earn some money.

"Making these trips from Holland to England. To bring a consignment of something illegal.

"We know now that you brought in cannabis worth up to £1.4 million depending on how you look at it, and this was your fourth time.

"Arguably you brought in cannabis worth four to five million pounds.

"You told the police from the outset you believed you were smuggling cannabis, and had no idea that these were controlled drugs.

"That has been accepted. You said it from the outset, and in police interview.

"The case is now proceeded on the basis this was an attempt to smuggle tobacco.

"If it had been as you believed it to be, it would have been avoiding around £100,000 of duty.

"It makes it worse that you did it four times, rather than simply once.

"Having got away with it once, you simply got on and did it again, again and again.

"It was at a pretty low level. Taking the orders and instructions, but for some financial reward.

"You were hardly going to be made rich for the rest of your life."

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