Two-year investigation put South Shields drug smuggler behind bars

Daniel Thompson from South Shields, who has been jailed for four years and two months for his part in a �4million drugs conspiracy.

Daniel Thompson from South Shields, who has been jailed for four years and two months for his part in a �4million drugs conspiracy.

Police have revealed how they smashed a £4million drugs operation and had a South Shields man jailed for more than four years.

Daniel Thompson, 28, of Rubens Avenue, South Shields, was one of six men arrested in connection with a scheme to ship cannabis to the North East from London.

Yesterday, at Kingston Crown Court, Thompson was jailed for four years and two months after earlier pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply a Class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016.

The court heard the two-year conspiracy involved dozens of 600-mile round trips from London to the South Shields area – driving drugs into the region and taking cash back.

Police smashed the London-based network after an investigation was launched by the Metropolitan Police’s Organised Crime Command Special Projects Team in 2014.

Extensive investigation provided evidence of a highly-organised network of criminals transporting cannabis by road and supplying to dealers from their stronghold in Eltham, south-east London.

The gang was incredibly careful in its planning and recruitment, communicating face-to-face and using only trusted people they either knew well or were related to.

Despite the distances involved and the cautious and secretive nature of the network, detectives were able to trace their movements and build a detailed picture of the gang’s activities.

When police made their move, on February 1 last year, eight men were arrested after a co-ordinated swoop on addresses in the North East and London.

They seized 100 kilos of cannabis and £40,000 in cash.

Detective Sergeant Barry Hill of the Met’s Special Projects Team said: “The secretive and professional nature of this criminal gang made this a long, complex and challenging investigation for detectives.

“Through diligent work my team have been able to build a case that has disbanded a network supplying cannabis valued at around £4million.

“The support provided to our officers by the North East Regional Specialist Operations Unit was invaluable.

“Together we have ended the activities of this network and the associated crime related to the supply of cannabis to the North East of England.”

Neil Acourt – also known as Neil Stuart – was described as the “man at the top” of the operation.

The 41-year-old, from Eltham, was one of the men arrested in connection with the murder of schoolboy Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed to death by a gang of white men at a bus stop in 1993.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to six years and three months.

Acourt’s childhood friend James Botton, 45, father-in-law Jack Vose, 63, and family friend Lee Birks, 55, were all recruited into the plot.

Vose was caught with about 220lb of cannabis resin in the back of his white van in South Shields in February last year.

Vose, of Bexley, Kent, and Botton, of Greenwich, south-east London, were each jailed for four years and nine months.

Paul Beavers, 49, of Backworth, North Tyneside, was jailed for three years and four months.

Birks, of Orpington, Kent, had his sentence postponed for medical reports.

Acourt, a father of one, was a “buffer”, handling more than a dozen bundles of cash, ranging from £15,000 to £40,000 each, in return for 2.5% of the money.

Jonas Milner, defending, said he “genuinely regrets” what he did and is a family man.

He has two previous convictions but no details about them were revealed in court because they are not drugs-related.

All six men had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply a Class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016.

In 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted at the Old Bailey of murdering Mr Lawrence and jailed for life.

Acourt was also arrested, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) formally discontinued the case against him after a meeting with the senior investigating officer.

Norris and Acourt were jailed for 18 months in 2002 for a racist attack on off-duty black policeman Gareth Reid.

Norris hurled a drink at the officer from a car and shouted a racist remark while Acourt drove the vehicle at him during the attack in Eltham – less than a mile from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered.