Couple jailed for role in £100m drug operation

An estranged couple, who fell on hard times and allowed their struggling Yorkshire business to become a hub for a £100m international drug-dealing operation, have been jailed for a total of 32 years.

Andrew Varey, 44, and former girlfriend Maxine Robinson, 39, were caught after customs officials in Calais randomly checked a German-owned lorry bound for the UK and found heroin and cannabis with a street value of £9m.

French police discovered that the drugs, stored in heat-sealed packages on pallets, had been destined for Varey’s shopfitting business in Shipley, where Robinson worked as a secretary.

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The German transport company which owned the lorry said it had been employed by a Dutch firm to transport what it believed were shopfitting parts to the UK.

Bradford Crown Court heard yesterday that 13 previous deliveries had been made to the Shipley business in less than six months, suggesting more than 12 tonnes of drugs had been smuggled.

Jailing Varey and Robinson for 16 years each, Recorder Peter Babb said the volume imported was “more than enough to flood the streets of West Yorkshire and beyond with illegal drugs.

“The personal misery for addicts and their families is incalculable.”

Varey and Robinson were arrested on August 15, 2008 – a day after the lorry was checked at French customs.

Police searched Varey’s firm and found documents linking the business to both the German transport company and the Dutch firm.

The court heard that Varey had run his firm legitimately for two years before it ran into difficulty and he feared losing his home.

He told drug investigators that he had been approached by an unknown man who asked to use his premises as a delivery point in return for cash.

He would be called shortly before each delivery was to be made, he said, and the loads would be taken away that same day by men he did not know.

Varey said he would then receive an envelope containing payment.

Details of the case were heard during a trial in April, when a jury took little more than an hour to convict Varey and Robinson of conspiring to supply heroin and cannabis.

Paul Williams, for Varey, said his client had no previous convictions and had not profited substantially from the drug haul.

After falling on hard times during the recession, Varey was open to the offer of storing drugs, the court heard.

“Essentially he was trusted to keep his mouth shut,” Mr Williams said.

Simon Hustler, for Robinson, said she also had no previous convictions and was suffering from ill-health.

He said that the pair were at the bottom of the drug operation and had made little money.

Detective Chief Inspector Noel Devine, of West Yorkshire Police’s crime division, who led the inquiry, said: “The large seizure made in France by customs officers kickstarted a very complex investigation which uncovered the 13 other such deliveries. We believe that these shipments will have also contained drugs worth up to an estimated £100m.

“Varey and Robinson agreed to take delivery of the consignments and signed for them even though they claimed not to know what was inside.

“A jury did not believe their version of events and found them both guilty of serious offences which have seen them jailed for a considerable length of time. This should send out a clear message to anyone who agrees to even play a small role within a conspiracy to supply drugs that you will be caught and brought to justice.

“We worked closely with the French, German and Dutch authorities during this investigation and it is another example of how, no matter many countries criminals work across, their crimes will not go undetected.”