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Friday, 9 September 2011

Annan man was part of £40M cocaine gang

 

THREE DUMFRIESSHIRE men were part of an international drug smuggling gang which brought up to £40 million of cocaine into the UK. Keith Blenkinsop of Annan was one of the ringleaders in the group which also included Robert Dalrymple of Gretna, David Harbison of Annan and three others. But their drugs network, which stretched from Columbia to Scotland via Spain, unravelled after Harbison turned supergrass. The drugs courier was caught with some counterfeit £20 notes and blurted out details of the drugs operation to police who quizzed him in Dumfries. A five-week trial at Glasgow High Court heard how the gang was importing massive amounts of cocaine into the country between 2007 to 2009 and distributing it in the Glasgow area with some also being sold in Dumfries and Galloway. Blenkinsop, with fellow ringleader Lindsay Harkins of Helensburgh, sewed the cocaine into suitcases in Barcelona and used couriers to bring it into Glasgow, Prestwick and Newcastle airports. Over a two-year period the gang flew out to Spain with suitcases full of Euros and came back with two kilos of cocaine at a time. At the conclusion of the trial on Wednesday, Blenkinsop, 43, of Winterhope Road, Annan; Harkins, 44, of Helensburgh, Andrew Burns, 56, of Helensburgh, Robert Dalrymple, 43, of Loanwath Road, Gretna, and James Elvin, 35, of Clydebank, were all convicted of being concerned in the supply of cocaine in Scotland, England, and Spain. Dalrymple and Elvin were only convicted of being involved in the drugs operation as couriers in 2009. The court heard that despite the massive size of their operation, the gang managed to remain completely under the radar of the UK’s drug enforcement agencies. The gang was snared because a teller in a Marks and Spencer’s bureau de change in Carlisle noticed counterfeit notes among a bundle of sterling that gang member David Harbinson was wanting to change into Euros. When Harbinson was arrested by police, he turned supergrass and gave evidence which put his former associates behind bars. He has now been placed on a witness protection programme. He told advocate depute Iain McSporran, prosecuting, that the gang had a direct connection to Columbian drug barons. Harbinson said that Blenkinsop and Harkins were the brains behind the operation and the other accused were merely couriers paid to take Euros to Spain and bring back drugs. In fact the gang exchanged so much sterling in Euros that Blenkinsop’s local post office won an award for the amount of Euros it sold. The jury was told they sourced their cocaine from the Columbians based in Barcelona and transferred them to Harkins’ house in Barcelona. Harbinson even told police that Harkins had an X-ray machine at the Barcelona house, like those used at airports, to make sure that the drugs would not be spotted – although he never said this in the witness box. When Blenkinsop’s house in Annan was searched 12 kilos of cannabis resin were found in a holdall in the attic. Dad-of-two Harbinson, 41, said that he would fly out to Barcelona with Euros in his suitcase and travel back to Newcastle with two kilos of cocaine. He told the court that he was offered £2,000 per kilo of cocaine to bring it into the UK and added: “I was told that Lindsay would fit up a suitcase and you would never know it was there.” Mr Harbinson said had changed a total of £250,000 sterling into Euros for Keith Blenkinsop in the Dumfries and Carlisle areas. All accused claimed that Harbinson was a liar and a self-confessed cocaine addict and said that no one would have used him as a drugs courier. Blenkinsop was also convicted at the High Court in Glasgow of being involved in the supply of cannabis resin and amphetamines between January 2007 and June 19, 2009. Harkins was found guilty of being involved in the supply of amphetamine. Blenkinsop was caught with three others off the Spanish coast in a yacht containing four tonnes of cannabis resin worth £12 million. Prosecutor Mr McSporran told the court that Blenkinsop had been sentence to four years imprisonment in Spain in 2004 for a drugs offence. All five will be sentenced next month. Judge Lord Doherty ordered background reports before sentencing them. Yesterday, Detective Inspector Gary Coupland who headed up a team of up to 30 officers who worked on the case for around nine months, told the Standard: “This was quite a complicated operation and we used Interpol to gather evidence in South America and Spain. It is a good example of how serious organised crime does not just affect the large city areas.”

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