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Jail for prison scheme

A career criminal who masterminded a five tonne cocaine plot, from his prison cell, is in jail for that crime. Russell Knaggs, 38, from Doncaster, who was an inmate at Lowdham Grange Prison in Nottinghamshire, was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine, with two criminal associates. A fourth man pleaded guilty.

The organised crime group was unaware that the Serious Organised Crime Agency and its partners were monitoring their every move in the UK and overseas, gathering evidence from coded conversations and meetings. The men referred to their plan as a “plastering job” in an attempt to avoid detection and talked of making a “f**king shed load of dough”.

The four men were jailed for a total of 57 years for plotting to import five tonnes of cocaine into the UK from Colombia. Career criminal Russell Knaggs, 38, from Doncaster, who orchestrated the scheme from his cell at Lowdham Grange Prison in Nottinghamshire, was sentenced to 20 years at Birmingham Crown Court on March 2.

Knaggs’ criminal associates Phillip Hadley, 52, from Doncaster, and Robert Rich, 40, from Barnsley, received 18 years and 14 years respectively. All three were found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine after a five-month trial. The fourth member of the organised crime group, Anthony Perger, 51, from Sheffield, pleaded guilty and was jailed for 5.5 years.

The plan was to ship the cocaine in batches from Colombia to Costa Rica where it would be concealed in consignments of fruit. Each batch was to be placed in a container on a ship heading for Longbeach USA where it would be put on a larger ship going to Hamburg. The group then planned to transport the cocaine to the UK in smaller loads hidden inside cars.

They failed, after losing the down payment on the first batch of cocaine when their Colombian contact was gunned down by a rival cartel. Despite further attempts, distrust set in and Knaggs eventually called things off.

During the investigation, prison staff searched cells and recovered a blueprint for importing cocaine, a list of Colombian drug contacts and notebooks containing flight details and locations for meetings. A SIM card Knaggs hid inside legal material was found by independent counsel.

Knaggs’ criminal associates on the outside were Phillip Hadley, 52, from Doncaster, Robert Rich, 40, from Barnsley, and Anthony Perger, 51, from Sheffield, who all travelled extensively and acted as negotiators and facilitators.

All four men were arrested and charged within months of Knaggs’ release in June 2010. He had been serving a 16-year sentence for drug trafficking after an investigation by SOCA’s predecessor, the National Crime Squad.

Gerry Smyth, SOCA’s North East Regional Head of Investigations, said after the case: “Partnerships at a national and international level are vital if we are to tackle the drug chain from one end to the other and protect our communities.

“Knaggs believed he could safely continue business from behind bars but he was wrong. This case shows that prisoners, like everyone else, are not beyond reach. Knaggs and his cohorts can reflect on that as they now await their sentences.”

Richard Pickering, Head of Security Group for the National Offender Management Service, said: “This is a good result and demonstrates how effectively different agencies can work together to achieve common goals. Staff at Lowdham Grange did an excellent job working with SOCA in this case and can be very proud of the part they played.”


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