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Drugs gang jailed after "colossal" cocaine seizure

Drugs gang jailed after "colossal" cocaine seizure

Published at 7:31pm 18th September 2015. (Updated at 10:02am 19th September 2015)

Four people, including a man from Ilkley, have been jailed for a total of 31 years after trying to smuggle more than a tonne of cocaine into the UK on a luxury yacht.

The Makayabella was intercepted by the Irish Navy in September last year and the cocaine found on board would have had a street value of more than £160 million.

Leeds Crown Court heard how Dawne Powell, 56, played a crucial role in the purchase and insuring of the vessel, paying for flights for the crew and a satellite phone.

The yacht, skippered by her father-in-law John Powell, was tracked as it crossed the Atlantic from the Caribbean.

It was due to transfer its illicit cargo to another vessel, the Sea Breeze, skippered by Dawne Powell's husband Stephen and crewed by Philip McElhone, 30, and David Webster, 44.

However, the Sea Breeze ran out of fuel and was rescued by the RNLI and towed to Rosslare in Ireland, before returning to Pwllheli in Wales.

Mrs Powell was sentenced to three years in prison, after being found guilty of money laundering following a week-long trial.

She was cleared of conspiring to import Class A drugs.

James Hill, 31, from Ilkley, was jailed for six years after being found guilty of conspiring to import Class A drugs.

McElhone and Webster both pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and were given sentences of 11 years each.

David Norris, from the National Crime Agency, said: "We have successfully dismantled an organised crime group intent on flooding the North of England with illegal drugs.

"This was a colossal seizure, and I've no doubt that had it not been stopped, the cocaine on board the Makayabella would have ended up on our streets.

"Dawne Powell has been found guilty of laundering money which was used in the purchase of the vessel. This enabled the conspiracy which Hill, McElhone and Webster played important roles in.

"This investigation has relied upon international co-operation to bring it to a successful conclusion, and we will continue to work with our partners at home and abroad to disrupt and bring to justice those involved in drug trafficking."

The convictions mean that eight people are now behind bars in connection with the Makayabella smuggling attempt.

Stephen Powell, who orchestrated the plot, was jailed for 16 years in 2014.

He initially disappeared, but following publicity about the seizure and a raid on his home in Guiseley, he handed himself in.

The three men who were on the boat when it was stopped, Stephen Powell's father John, from Silsden, Benjamin Mellor, from Bradford, and Thomas Britteon, from Grimsby, were given sentences of between eight and 10 years after being arrested and prosecuted by Irish authorities.

Specialist Crown Prosecutor Tarryn McCaffrey said: "When the Makayabella was seized by the authorities, it contained over a tonne of cocaine being transported from Venezuela.

"Dawne Powell and James Hill may not have sailed either of the boats used to import the drugs, but the scheme could not have been run without their involvement.

"The street value of these drugs would have been £164 million, had this massive shipment reached the intended destination. It is vital this type of organised crime continues to be disrupted and offenders are brought to justice."

Yorkshire drugs gang

Left to right: David Webster, Dawne Powell, James Hill and Philip McElhone