ENCROCHAT: Drugs couriers brought back blocks of wood from Colombia after police switched cocaine
TWO drug addicts who brought blocks of wood on a flight from Colombia, thinking it was a large amount of cocaine, have been jailed for six years and eight months each.
Jessica Waldron, 36, and Michael Williams, 37, were supposed to be carrying between them 22kgs of cocaine with a street value of £1.75 million for an organised crime gang.
However, it was switched by Colombian police, who were onto the plot, before they departed on a flight from Bogotá to Heathrow Terminal 2 in December 2019.
Isleworth Crown Court today heard that after the pair from Hollyhall, Dudley, West Midlands, landed they were met by another man who they followed into a toilet area before coming out without the holdalls.
They had earlier been caught on CCTV camera struggling with the bags in the airport due to their weight, the court heard.
Prosecuting, John Ojakovoh, said: "Jessica Waldron and Michael Williams flew to Colombia and were returning to London Heathrow. They set off on December 13 2019 and were due to arrive on December 14 after a one-week trip. Their luggage was to contain 22kgs of cocaine but unbeknown to them it was swapped out by the Colombian authorities who put in substitution blocks of modified wood, but they continued on the flight with the plan as they knew it."
He said a man had arrived in the afternoon and "sat in a place where the two would arrive with other passengers.""They duly followed the (man) to a toilet area having deviated from the natural route for arrivals and were seen to go in with the holdalls containing the blocks and come out without them. "The (man) reappeared with the holdalls and took them to a vehicle conveniently parked at the exit and he was promptly arrested and found to be in possession of an EncroChat phone. The two defendants Miss Waldron and Mr Williams had arrived in a pre-prepared way wearing clothes identified in photographs for identification purposes and holding hands like a couple as instructed by an EncroChat message. "They were arrested as well by a Border Force officer. "Ms Waldron had two phones of interest to investigators, one subscribed to Mr Williams that she was using and a second with a Colombian sim." The court heard Ms Waldron was more involved in arrangements for the trip than Mr Williams and was instructed from above by others in the crime gang. One message to her on November 9 2019 said: "Hey Jess, have got something real nice for you and Mike." There were EncroChat messages about their travel arrangements being paid for and Ms Waldron was in contact with people involved in the plot in the UK and while in Colombia. Mr Ojakovoh said the contact with superiors in the plot suggested they may have carried out previous courier runs, but there was no actual evidence so they were sentenced on the once case only. There were no details of how much they were set to be paid for the courier trip in the evidence. Both made no comment in interview but then pleaded guilty to one count each of the fraudulent evasion of prohibition on class A cocaine at the first hearing at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court two days later on December 16. Tom Blackburn, defending the pair, said they were both addicted to class A drugs at the time and had taken the trip on the promise of discounted supplies. He said Waldron had been addicted to crack cocaine and heroin after falling in with the wrong crowd 16 years ago after a traumatic childhood and the death of her father. Her children had been taken into care due to her drug addiction, the court heard, and she had 2015 convictions for shoplifting. However, he said while in prison she had turned her life around and was clean from drugs and helping other prisoners. She was a positive role model in prison and a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, a recovery mentor and had reached the final of a festival of learning competition and taken part in sports coaching. Mr Williams, who also has some convictions for minor offences, had taken on a waste biohazard job while on remand in prison and had spent the whole time in gainful employment. He had also caught coronavirus and his father had died while he was in prison. He had also used the time to get clean from drugs the court heard. Recorder Christopher Stone said: "In December 2019 you flew to Colombia for the express purpose of bringing back drugs into the country. "You knew what you were involved in and there is no suggestion you were coerced and you did it for access to cheap discounted drugs to fuel habits you both had. "You brought two holdall bags that had been intercepted by Colombian Police before you got on the plane, but you did not know this. "There were 22 packages weighing roughly 1kg each which were 68 per cent purity and then replaced by modified wood. "When you arrived at Heathrow you thought you were still carrying the drugs." The CPS wanted a travel restriction order placed on the pair, but the judge declined after they vowed to have no further involvement with crime or drugs. A further trial in respect of other alleged gang members is due to take place.