A CRIMINAL who masterminded a plot to import tonnes of cocaine into the UK from his prison cell was jailed for 20 years yesterday.
Russell Knaggs, 38, was described as the “controlling mind” behind a plan to import five tonnes of the drug – inside fruit, from Colombia via Costa Rica, the United States and Germany – from his cell at Lowdham Grange Prison in Nottinghamshire, where he was serving a 16-year sentence for drug trafficking.
Knaggs, of Doncaster, was jailed with three other men from Yorkshire at Birmingham Crown Court for conspiracy to import cocaine.
In mitigation the gang’s lawyers argued that the plot had been unsuccessful and that no cocaine reached the UK.
But His Honour Judge Melbourne Inman QC said: “It is clear beyond doubt that the intended scale was massive, involving hundreds of kilos of cocaine.”
Sentencing Knaggs, he said: “You treat the criminal justice system with contempt and see it only as a hindrance to furthering your activities.”
Phillip Hadley, 52, from New Hill, Conisbrough, Doncaster, and Robert Rich, 40, a mechanic from Burton Road, Barnsley, were convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine by a jury last month after a five-month trial.
Hadley, whom the judge said worked in partnership with Knaggs, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, while Rich, described as the “legman” in the plot, was jailed for 14 years.
A fourth man, Anthony Perger, 51, was jailed for five years and six months after admitting to the charge at an earlier hearing, despite having previous convictions for drug trafficking.
The court heard how the former soldier, from Hall Road, Sheffield, had been handed a three-year sentence for importing drugs into Australia in 2006.
Knaggs and his gang referred to their plan as a “plastering job” to avoid being caught and talked of making a “shedload of dough”.
The court heard Knaggs had discussed a sum of around £10m with other gang members.
He began masterminding the plan soon after being sentenced to 16 years in May 2003 for drug trafficking. He and the other three were arrested in August 2010, months after Knaggs was released on licence.
They were unaware their every move, including coded conversations and meetings at home and abroad, was being monitored.
A blueprint for importing cocaine, a list of Colombian drug contacts and notebooks with flight details and locations for meetings was found by prison staff who searched Knaggs’s cell. A sim card was also recovered which he had hidden inside legal material.
The gang planned to ship cocaine in batches from Colombia to Costa Rica where it would be concealed in consignments of fruit. Each batch was to be placed on a ship heading for Long Beach, California, where it would be put on a larger ship going to Hamburg. The group then planned to transport the cocaine to the UK in smaller loads hidden inside cars.
They failed after losing the down payment on the first batch of cocaine when their Colombian contact was gunned down by a rival cartel. Despite further attempts, Knaggs dropped the plans.
But the judge said: “You pulled the plug for fear of detection, not because of a change of heart.”
He added that the sentences would have been considerably higher if the drugs had reached the UK. “Fortunately for this country they did not,” he added.
Gerry Smyth, the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s North East regional head of investigations, said: “Knaggs believed he could continue business from behind bars but no one should think they are beyond reach. Soca and its partners will use their expertise and determination to stamp down hard on organised criminals.”