Unlucky day that sank the smugglers

WHEN the prosecution’s forensic expert Geraldine O’Neill recounted how she examined the hall-marked cocaine recovered from Dunlough Bay it was possible to make different calculations about the street value of the bales which had been floating in the Atlantic.

The three defendants had been charged with possession of cocaine to a value exceeding €13,000 — a sum used by police to indicate that the offence is serious.

Initial forecasts at the time were that the value of the cocaine was around €100m. By the time the trial was in its opening stages that figure had risen to €440m. But using Ms O’Neill’s calculations for adulterated forms of cocaine — 6.7% purity on the street compared to the 75% purity of the Sheep’s Head consignment — it is possible that the final street value could have been in excess of €1.28bn.

Ms O’Neill told the court that between February and November last year she analysed nine unrelated samples of cocaine dealt “on the street” and found the drugs had a purity ranging from 3.4% to 12%. The average of the street cocaine was 6.7% as opposed to an average of 75% in the samples.

One of the puzzles of the case pre-trial was how an international smuggling ring, which had purchased an ocean-going catamaran in Florida, and used sophisticated global positioning system (GPS) phones to arrange a rendezvous at a weather-buoy, had failed to complete the last leg and make landfall, crashing their high-powered boat instead onto rocks in stormy waters off the Irish coast.

As the trial proceeded the reasons for the failure of the sunken RIB — which was carrying the drugs to shore — were debated.

Cross-examining the prosecution expert who examined the sunken RIB, defence senior counsel, Blaise O’Carroll said: “Some idiot put diesel into it when he should have put petrol in it and the engine lost its power and ended up on rocks.”

Paddy O’Connor, recently retired from the Irish Naval Service, agreed with Mr O’Carroll’s proposition.

During his evidence Mr O’Connor compared the replacement of the boat’s original single engine with two powerful 200-horsepower engines with the actions of a “boy racer.”

Mr O’Carroll put it to Mr O’Connor that someone had put engines on the boat without regard to the manufacturers, and the witness replied: “Boy racers will be boy racers.”

Earlier the trial had heard from salvage expert Colum Harrington who was asked by Customs and Excise to recover the semi-submerged RIB from the bay.

Mr Harrington towed the craft to Castletownbere as the waters at Dunlough Bay were so choppy that it was not possible to salvage it there.

He said that a crane was used to lift the 7.8 metre RIB out of the water in Castletownbere and put it onto the back of a truck under spotlights at 2am on July 3.

Mr Harrington gave evidence that he told Paddy O’Sullivan, senior Customs and Excise officer, he had seen this particular RIB before.

He had been in England in mid-June last year at the Sea Works exhibition and on his way back he saw the boat in the car park of the Pembroke car ferry.

“I thought it was unusual to see such big engines on it. I passed the remark, ‘this fella must be in an awful hurry with such big engines’.”

He also observed at the time that the vehicle towing the RIB and trailer was what he described as a hippy-type van which he thought was unusual as he would have expected a fancy kind of 4x4 to be pulling a craft like that.

Mr Harrington said he would have expected the owner of the van to come out to him when he was looking at the boat as he said people would normally do so when they would see someone taking an interest in their boat.

Another element of the trial involved the registration and insurance of three — green, blue, and red — 4x4 vehicles, variously referred to as Land Rovers and jeeps, which were to figure in the prosecution case.

All three vehicles, which had been registered to their previous owners between November 3 and 16, 2006, changed ownership in four days last year . . . between March 20 and 24.

Sian Wynne-Dukes of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea testified that the blue and red Land Rovers were registered to Paul Young and the address given was 9 Carisbrooke Avenue, Bexley, Kent in south London.

Ian Hunter, director of operations at Mastercover Insurance Ltd. said in respect of the insurance for the blue Land Rover that the deposit of £113 was paid by credit card in the name of Joseph Daly, and subsequent direct debits came from a Halifax bank account also in the name of Joseph Daly.

Evidence about Joseph Daly was provided by his sister Margaret Kearney who told the court that their brother, Michael, had been a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police drugs squad until his retirement in 1994.

The court heard later that Michael Daly had been arrested in England and charged with offences concerning the importation of cocaine in May this year.

Ms Kearney said her brother, Joe, had been a very successful and hard-working builder with a very good job, nice home and nice family. Ms Kearney lives with her family in Adrigole in west Cork and her father also resides, for at least part of the year, in another part of west Cork.

Ms Kearney testified that her brother Joe often visited the area, sometimes for fishing holidays and sometimes with his family.

The jury was told that the RIB recovered from the sea at Dunlough Bay originally had a seating unit attached to it, and that this particular seating was found at a house that was searched at Farnamanagh, Kilcrohane, County Cork.

Detective Garda Eamon Hennelly said finger marks from the seat of the RIB corresponded with those of defendants, Joseph Daly and Martin Wanden.

Other garda evidence involved the dental problems of the defendant Perry Wharrie. Dentist Liam O’Sullivan, from Waterford, testified that Perry Wharrie visited his dental surgery at Tower, Blarney, County Cork, shortly after 2pm on June 20 2007 and identified himself on a medical questionnaire as Perry Wharrie with an address at Pyrles Lane, Essex, and a date of birth of August 2 1959. The dentist prescribed a course of Amoxacyllin antibiotic.

The jury had previously heard garda evidence of a field in the vicinity of Dunlough Bay being searched and the finding of scraps of paper variously containing the words, Perry, Wharrie, pharmacy and Tower.

Two members of the Spanish police testified that they detained the Lucky Day yacht and arrested the two crewmen on board — four days after the massive haul of cocaine was discovered off the coast of West Cork.

They were identified only by their officer identification numbers, a procedure requested by Spanish police authorities. Officer 77385 stated that the Lucky Day was detained at La Caruna in Spain on July 6 2007. He said the crewman with whom he dealt only stated he would not be making a statement.

The role of the Lucky Day catamaran — alleged to have travelled from the West Indies containing its haul of cocaine to a meeting point 30 miles off the coast of Ireland — was discussed in court.

Commander Eugene Ryan, pictured left, of the Irish Navy, was asked by An Garda Síochána to make certain calculations based on information which they supplied to him. Based on this information, Commander Ryan calculated that a yacht travelling from the West Indies (where the drugs were alleged to have been taken on board) to west Cork — a distance of over 3,300 miles — would take 26 days at a speed of 5.1 knots.

The tracking of phone calls also featured heavily in the prosecution case.

Two weeks before the retrieval of the cocaine in Dunlough Bay a text message was sent by ‘Big Al’ to a phone at the centre of the investigation asking — “Any news of the gruesome twosome?”

Sergeant Colm Noonan said the messages were on a Nokia purchased in Bantry on January 16, 2007 by Martin Wanden using the alias, Steven Witsie.

Other messages sent in June, included the following: “Where are keys 4 boat?”; “Mooring sorted”; and “Can you drop off Joe’s bag, it is in the front of the car.”

The sergeant said there were 34 calls to this phone on July 2, the day the boat crashed in Dunlough Bay.

Wanden’s senior counsel, Padraig Dwyer said, “You know well and your team believes and knows that Martin Wanden did not buy the phone and never used that phone, that is what your team believes,” Mr Dwyer said. The sergeant said: “I do not believe that.”

After weeks of opening statements and witnesses and more than 1,000 exhibits it was the turn of the defence. And they were to claim that their clients were in the dock because of a rescue mission which went wrong.

The three men who found themselves embroiled in the biggest drugs case in the history of the State said that they were going to the aid of a friend, and in the case of Joseph Daly, a relative, who was in trouble on the ocean.

For Joseph Daly it started with a loud knocking at the door telling him that his brother, Michael, was in difficulties at sea.

He said that he and co-accused Perry Wharrie rushed to the scene to help. Only when they got there did they realise that this was a major drugs crime underway.

Martin Wanden had a similar experience. He got a call on his mobile phone when he was asleep in his tent during a camping holiday to say that a friend was in difficulties while out fishing. The man in trouble, as far as Wanden was concerned, was called Charlie Goldie — a man the prosecution claimed did not exist.

Joseph Daly woke in the early hours of July 2 in his rented house at Farnamanagh to the sound of loud banging at the back door.

“There was this guy Alex there, and someone I did not know at time, Perry Wharrie. Alex said to me, Michael, my brother had been in contact and was in trouble at sea. I said: ‘what is he doing at sea?’ ” Daly said.

He said they drove to Crookhaven where he met a number of men looking at maps and that he and Perry Wharrie went to see if they could be of any assistance. He said they knew at this point that the emergency services and the coastguard had been called.

Daly told the court: “I am getting in a bit of a panic. I said ‘we’ll have to go up there . . .’ We got to the brow of the hill and saw a boat sticking out of the water. I am trying to shout. As I am shouting I slipped over and cracked my head and my ribs on a rock.

“Perry is in front of me. He tells the coastguard there is someone in the water needs saving. We saw dozens of white packages. I said ‘what does that look like to you?’ He said ‘it doesn’t look good’ or something to that effect. Perry said we better get out of here. We are looking for the (car) keys and can’t find them anywhere but we are definitely not staying around here. That is when we took off into the fields.”

“I had no knowledge whatsoever of any drugs whatsoever at any stage until I saw them that morning as I was standing at the cliff edge.”

Daly and Wharrie walked for hours until they found a shed where they hid for two nights with nothing to eat. All this time Daly had one hope: “I was hoping the situation would resolve itself or someone would resolve it for me.”

Daly blamed his brother, Michael, the ex-Metropolitan police drugs squad detective, for his difficulties. He claimed it was Michael Daly who asked him to bring a jeep and Rigid Inflatable Boat to Ireland. He also brought Martin Wanden — a man he said he did not know but was a friend of his brother, Michael — with him. He testified that he knew nothing about the fact that the boat was going to be used for drugs. When he sat on the shed he thought about the boat he had brought into Ireland and knew this was the boat sticking out of the water with all the white packets of drugs bobbing around it.

According to Daly, there were long periods of silence as he and Wharrie sat in that shed in a remote part of West Cork. Tom Creed, senior counsel for the prosecution, asked Daly if he never turned to Wharrie to find out what this total stranger was doing in the same situation as him.

Mr Creed asked: “Did you never say, ‘you’re a lovely guy Perry but why are you coming with me.’ You had two days to ask him.”

Daly replied: “For a long period we were in different parts of the shed.” Daly and Wharrie were arrested as they wandered in a dishevelled state among a herd of cattle. When questioned, Daly said he replied ‘no comment’ to various questions from gardaí on the basis of advice from his solicitor. He also said his brain was “scrambled” after everything that had happened.

The nearest thing to a first hand account of Perry Wharrie’s movements during this time came from Daly as Wharrie chose — as is his right — to say nothing to the jury.

Martin Wanden gave a colourful description of his time in Ireland and even took time in his testimony to compliment the hospitality of the Irish: “The one thing about Ireland that is unique, no matter what pub you go into, someone will talk to you.”

But from Wanden’s perspective his camping trip turned out to be the holiday from hell as the police jumped to the wrong conclusion after he went to rescue a friend in need.

“If the police had kept an open mind on this from day one I would not be here. But because I was in the water they thought I was guilty,” Wanden testified.

Daly told the court of his holiday exploration of west Cork. He said he had visited Curraghcloe beach — where the Steven Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan was filmed — a place he ultimately felt was nothing like he had imagined and was really quite disappointing.

Later in West Cork he went to McCarthy’s Bar because he had read the book of the same name.

“I went to Gougane Barra and spent a couple of nights there, I visited the church and walked around the lakes” he added.

Wanden gave the jury his account of what happened on July 2, 2007, the day that the drug-carrying RIB sank at sea.

Wanden said he took a phone call at around 5.00am. “It was Charlie. He said ‘I am out fishing, the engines are giving up, could you come out and fetch me.’ I said ‘yeah, no problem, I’ll come and get you.’

“I made my way to Kilcrohane Pier. I see the RIB parked there, the keys where he said they were. It was blustery and damp but quite sheltered . . . only when I went out I realised how bad it was.

“He (Charlie) said ‘we are parked in a little cove.’ When I gets to the cove, there they are, Charlie and two other people. When I pulled up to the side of the boat it was full with boxes. They were obviously not fishing.”

Wanden added: “I said what is going on? Charlie said ‘don’t worry, it is nothing to do with you.’ Obviously, something is wrong, there are boxes on this boat . . .

“I said ‘drop me on the shore.’ He said ‘we can’t, we don’t have time.’ ”

Later in his evidene Wanden gave a more detailed description on how he was unfortunate enough to end up on the RIB with all the drugs — the last place he wanted to be.

He said there was a row going on and that suddenly he was pushed on to the drugs-laden RIB. Ultimately, he attempted to clarify it even further, describing it as “more a shove than a push.”

Wanden said: “This was not a debate like now. This was a split second . . . there’s millions of pounds worth of stuff, they’re not having a debate about it . . . they are not having it, they took off . . . they left me to die.”

When Wanden was rescued he gave his name and details to rescuers and the ambulance crew as Anthony Lyndon with a false address and date of birth but he denied this was a deliberate attempt to mislead the authorities and said it was because he could not think straight as he had been left to die.

It was Charlie Goldie — a man whose existence was denied by the state prosecutors — who Wanden said implicated him in the crime of smuggling a record haul of cocaine into Ireland.

But the jury did not believe him. And yesterday after 42 days of evidence and deliberation the jurors found him, and Perry Wharrie, and Joseph Daly guilty as charged. And awaiting their sentence.

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