Ex-police inspector caught in £2m drug-smuggling operation

Former British Transport Police officer David Brown was caught after being recruited by haulage firm boss.

Ex-police inspector caught in £2m drug-smuggling operation Google Maps

An ex-police inspector is behind bars for his role in a huge drug-smuggling operation.

David Brown, 51, was snared having been recruited by haulage firm boss Lawrence Phee, who ran the illegal enterprise.

Prosecutors revealed how drugs were imported from Spain into Scotland hidden inside machinery.

Police went on to seize cocaine, cannabis resin and herbal cannabis with a value of upwards of £2m.

Brown – once commended for his work with the British Transport Police – claimed he had been duped into trafficking drugs after being stopped while ready to board a ferry to Ireland in December 2018.

The crime can now be reported following a trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

Brown along with 52-year-old Patrick Hattie – an associate of Phee – were both convicted on Tuesday of being concerned in the supply of the three drugs at Cairnryan, Shotts, Coatbridge and elsewhere in Scotland between November 1 and December 1, 2018.

Phee, of Airdrie, Lanarkshire, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years in 2020 after he pled guilty to the same charges.

Reporting of that had been banned until the end of this trial.

Brown, of Carfin, Lanarkshire, and Hattie, of Airdrie, were remanded in custody pending sentencing next month at the High Court in Livingston.

Brown was previously jailed in 2016 for fraud while a serving officer in the British Transport Police.

Judge Lord Summers told Brown and Hattie: “You have both been found guilty by the jury. I will continue this for background reports and you are both remanded in custody.”

A court hearing last year was told how Phee directed the operation from his base in North Lanarkshire between November 1, 2017, and December 1, 2018.

Prosecutor Alan Cameron said: “The drugs were transported from the Alicante region of Spain to the UK with industrial machinery.

“These were most commonly generators and compressors.

“The drugs were hidden and then transported in lorry trailers run by a variety of individuals and companies.

“The drivers of the vehicles and the operators of the transport companies were, at times, unaware of the presence of drugs.”

The court heard Phee organised for approximately 15 shipments to be made from Spain into the UK and sometimes onto the Republic of Ireland.

This often involved contacting transport firms using an alias and a fake company name – such as Pat Kelly of Kelly Compressors.

Mr Cameron said the total quantity of the drugs smuggled was unknown.

But, two incidents gave an “insight” into the large scale operation.

In May 2018, Phee – known as Pat Kelly – and two associates met with a transport company in Alicante.

A huge generator wrapped in clingfilm was then loaded onto a lorry. The drivers of the truck were later stopped by police in France. 

A total of 126kg of herbal cannabis was found stashed inside the generator.

The innocent drivers were held for two days before being freed.

The herbal cannabis had a cost in Scotland of £504,000 and £750,000 in Ireland if sold in kilogram deals.

But, Mr Cameron said “maximum potential value would be greater” if the drugs were broken down further.

On December 1, 2018, a van driven by Brown was stopped by police at Cairnryan ferry port in Dumfries and Galloway.

He claimed to be a courier who had collected a load from Kelly Compressors in Shotts, Lanarkshire.

One of the officers – who had knowledge of machinery – was suspicious about alterations made to a fuel tank that was being transported.

Mr Cameron said: “When it was fully open, it was approximately three-quarters full of packages of controlled drugs.”

It emerged Phee had tailed the van to Cairnryan but was not linked to the seizure at that time.

A total of 4kg of cocaine, 23kg of herbal cannabis and 5072 bars of cannabis resin were discovered.

The drugs were valued at £600,000 in Scotland – £1m in Ireland – but again would have brought in more cash if split into smaller street deals.

Brown – who also knew Hattie –  told jurors how he had been offered work at short notice of a trip to Ireland using a van hired by Kelly Compressors.

The vehicle was loaded by a relative of Phee at the yard in Shotts.

His QC Tony Graham asked: “What did you think you were transporting?”

Brown said: “I thought it was an oil tank, as described in the paperwork.” He added that he had “no concerns” when he initially pulled in at Cairnryan.

But, he continued: “Police directed me over to a lane. A good few hours later, I heard someone in the back (of the van) go ‘yes’.

“I said to one of the officers: ‘what is going on?’. He said he thought they had found something.”

Mr Graham put to him: “It may be suggested that you are a man who illegally involved yourself in the drugs business for a few quid.”

Brown replied: “Absolutely not.”

He claimed to be “gutted” at being duped and that “as a former police officer” people may believe he was in some way “responsible”.

Hattie had also denied being involved in drug dealing.

His QC argued during the trial that Hattie had no case to answer and charges should be dropped.

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