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€440m coke smuggler murdered police officer

Perry Wharrie, one of the three Englishmen sentenced yesterday to a total of 85 years for possessing €440m of cocaine, is the convicted killer of a police officer.

Wharrie completed 17 years of a life-sentence for killing an English policeman, PC Francis Mason, two years before he was arrested off the west Cork coast last year. The murdered policeman's widow last night welcomed the 30-year sentence handed down to her husband's killer at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

"My life came to a standstill that day (her husband was murdered). Seeing him now get 30 years in jail is nothing less than this man deserves," Jill Mason told the Irish Independent.

It also emerged last night that feared drug lords -- the Colombian Medellin cartel -- supplied the gang.

Wharrie (48), and fellow drug smugglers Martin Wanden (45) and Joe Daly (41), remained impassive as Judge Sean O'Donnabhain jailed them for a total of 85 years -- the heaviest drug sentences handed down in the history of the State.

Wanden simply shrugged his shoulders and sat down, while Daly stared at the ground and Wharrie looked around.

Wharrie and Wanden, who both have numerous previous convictions, were jailed for 30 years each. Daly, who has only minor previous convictions, was jailed for 25 years.

Last night, Wharrie and Wanden were taken to Portlaoise Prison, while Daly will serve his sentence in the Midlands Prison. Four other men who were also involved are now on the run, from both the police and the notorious Colombian Medellin cartel, who lost €40m in wholesale cocaine earnings as a result of the bungled smuggling operation.

A total of nine men were involved in the Dunlough Bay seizure, which only came about after one gang member accidentally put diesel in a powerful petrol outboard marine engine. The craft involved later capsized, throwing 62 bales of cocaine into the stormy sea.

The drugs were estimated to be worth €440m and the cocaine had a purity level of 75pc -- almost seven times that of street cocaine.

Judge O'Donnabhain also expressed serious concerns about the British passport system at yesterday's dramatic sentencing hearing, after it emerged that convicted murderer Wharrie was able to arrive in Ireland, less than two years after his release from prison for killing a policeman, with an alias and a false passport. Wanden was found with two false passports.

"It does appear that the whole passport (system) in the UK is wide open to abuse," he said.

The judge said the three men had fought the case "tooth and nail", as was their right, but, the absence of a guilty plea, their lack of cooperation with gardai and their failure to show any remorse, had left him with no options to reduce their massive sentences

He said the men treated the court and jury "with contempt" through their lies and denials over the marathon 10-week case. He said all three were perfectly aware of what they were involved in, describing them as "very committed lieutenants" in the Anglo-Spanish drugs gang behind the operation.

He said the case against Wanden, who was taken from the sea while surrounded by cocaine bales, was "overwhelming".

Wanden is now the focus of a probe by the South African equivalent to the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and faces the potential auction of his palatial Cape Town villa.

Wanden was described in court as "a tragic case". His wife, Sonja, killed herself in a British mental hospital last November following her husband's arrest. His nine-year old daughter, Jade, is now being raised by her aunt.

Judge O'Donnabhain said a harsh sentence was unavoidable and stressed that none of the three were drug addicts and were simply involved in the smuggling operation "for the money".

Garda Supt John Healy hailed the conviction and sentences as a landmark victory in the battle against drugs and paid tribute to the other state bodies in the multi-agency investigation.

Supt Healy said the case sent out a very strong message that Ireland is not a safe haven for drug smugglers.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern also paid tribute last night to the professionalism of the state agencies involved in prosecuting Ireland's biggest drug seizure.

Thanks to satellite and mobile-phone technology, Navy experts were even able to trace the drugs "mother ship", the yacht Lucky Day, from the cocaine delivery point off the Venezuelan coast right across the Atlantic to Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph