Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A respected college lecturer has been jailed for 11 years for her major role in a scheme to smuggle cocaine into Britain from Panama

Andrew Clunis:

Juliet Stephenson-Blake

Juliet Stephenson-Blake, 38, was teaching pupils social studies by day while turning her hand to major crime at night.

But cops were able to smash the plot after a tip-off from their counterparts in Panama, Southwark Crown Court was told.

Stephenson-Blake, of High Street, Penge, south east London, Andrew ‘Wayne' Stephenson 33, of the same address, Denton Crooks 42, of Woodmansterne Road, Streatham, south-west London, and James Ogwang 25, of Marden Square, Drummond Road, Rotherhithe, were all convicted on one count of being knowingly concerned in the keeping, harbouring or dealing of 2.07kgs of cocaine between April 11 and April 24, 2004.

Stephenson-Blake helped plan the international operation with drugs baron Crooks and two illegal immigrants - one her husband.

The gang had hoped to avoid arousing suspicion by having a parcel of cocaine worth at least £120,000 on the streets addressed to a bank in the City of London.

Just an hour before the package was due to arrive at Le Grand Japanese Bank, the teacher arranged to have it diverted to a private address in Rotherhithe, south-east London. She had tracked the package on the Fed-Ex website using the computers at Croydon College, where she worked.

But customs officers at Heathrow Airport had already intercepted the parcel, removed its contents and arranged for an undercover officer to smash the plot.

Posing as a Fed-Ex courier, the City of London police officer followed the package to its new destination to snare Stephenson-Blake and her overstayer husband, Stephenson.

The couple, along with Crooks and illegal immigrant Ogwang, were unanimously convicted of knowingly being involved in the importation of more than 2kg of cocaine after a three-week trial.

Judge Rodney McKinnon sentenced Crooks to 12 years and Stephenson and Ogwang to 10 years each at London's Southwark Crown Court.

Jailing Stephenson-Blake for 11 years, the judge said: “You are clearly an intelligent woman who was holding down a good and important job as a teacher. But I am satisfied that you played an important role in this conspiracy. This is clear from the conversations you had with Fed-Ex and then with the undercover officer known as ‘Billy'.

“You copied down delivery reference codes and tracked the journey of the drugs so that you could divert it to its final destination - Mr Ogwang's flat.”

The judge told Crooks that he had attempted to stay in the background while the operation was being carried out. “But I am satisfied that you played an organisational role of no little importance.”

The judge told the gang: “Those who concern themselves in the importation of class A drugs must realise that they are taking a very great risk with their liberty.

“Drugs are the major contributor to crime and misery in this country and around the world and those people who bring the drugs into the country must take a good deal of the blame.”

Michael Shaw, prosecuting, had earlier told jurors: “This case involves an operation to import cocaine into Britain. The tricky bit is getting the cocaine from South America to London without getting caught, but when you have managed it, the value of the drug goes through the roof.

“Two kilos of the drug is not going to cost you much in Panama, but get it onto the streets of London and the value will skyrocket.

“To do this the gang hit upon the idea of using a courier company to get the cocaine through customs. They got caught because the package was intercepted by customs in Panama and delivered to the UK authorities.

“The City of London police opened the parcel, took out the drugs and launched an operation to catch those at the end of it.

“Having first arrested Mr Ogwang whose contact details emerged when they opened the package, they removed the drugs and followed the journey of the package. The officer dressed in Fed-Ex uniform was sent to drop off the delivery which had by this time been diverted to 96 Market Square, Rotherhithe.”

Following a series of calls between the officer and the Stephensons, and a number of failed attempts to deliver the package, Ogwang arrived at the address to accept the drugs.

He told the undercover officer he had been given permission to accept the delivery on behalf of the Stephensons and was immediately arrested.

Officers then tracked Stephenson-Blake to her Croydon classroom where she was arrested and led detectives to her husband and Crooks.

Crooks had been deported to Britain from Jamaica after being caught smuggling 16kg of cannabis into the Caribbean in 2004.

Detective Inspector Dave Clark, based with the City of London Police, said: “This was a swift and successful operation.

“Specialist officers from the City of London Police worked very closely with both the Panamanian authorities and Federal Express to bring this investigation to a satisfactory conclusion.”

The judge is set to rule on whether or not Stephenson and Ogwang should be deported at a later date.

Police intercept drugs package destined for City bank

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