South Scotland

£40m cocaine smuggling gang convicted

Drugs gang
Keith Blenkinsop, top left, and Lindsay Harkins, top right, were the ringleaders while Andrew Burns, Robert Dalrymple and James Elvin acted as mules

A drugs gang responsible for smuggling cocaine with a street value of up to £40m into the UK has been convicted at the High Court in Glasgow.

They were involved in importing the drugs from Spain between 2007 and 2009.

The ringleaders were Keith Blenkinsop, of Annan, and Lindsay Harkins from Helensburgh.

Three men who acted as mules - Andrew Burns, of Helensburgh; Robert Dalrymple, of Gretna; and James Elvin, from Clydebank - were also convicted.

The cocaine was concealed inside suitcases and holdalls flown by couriers into Prestwick, Glasgow and Newcastle airports.

The court heard how the drugs were concealed beneath a false bottom sewn into suitcases

The court heard how the operation came to an end when one of the gang's couriers, David Harbinson, 41, of Annan, was caught with some counterfeit £20 notes and blurted out details of the drugs scheme to police.

A teller at a Marks and Spencer bureau de change in Carlisle noticed the currency among a bundle of sterling he wanted to convert to euros.

Mr Harbinson subsequently gave evidence against his former associates and has now been placed on a witness protection programme.

He told advocate depute Iain McSporran, prosecuting, that the gang had a direct connection to Colombian drug barons.

He said Blenkinsop and Harkins were the brains behind the operation while the other accused were couriers paid to take euros to Spain and bring back drugs.

In fact, the gang exchanged so much sterling into euros that Blenkinsop's local post office won an award for the amount of euros it sold.

The jury was told they sourced their cocaine from Colombians based in Barcelona and transferred it to Harkins' house in the Spanish city.

Harkins, a former upholsterer, would then put the drugs inside a suitcase and sew in a false bottom.

The cocaine brought in by the gang was mostly destined for the Glasgow area, although some of it was also sold in Dumfries.

Refuted claims

Mr Harbinson also gave the court a detailed breakdown of how he was approached to become a courier and the payments made to transport the drugs.

All of the accused claimed that he was a liar and a self-confessed cocaine addict and said that nobody would have used him as a drugs courier.

After a five-week trial Blenkinsop, 43, of Winterhope Road, Annan; Harkins, 44, of West Princes Street, Helensburgh; Burns, 56, of Old Luss Road, Helensburgh; Dalrymple, 43, of Loanwath Road, Gretna; and Elvin, 35, of Garscadden View, Clydebank, were all convicted of being concerned in the supply of cocaine in Scotland, England and Spain.

Blenkinsop was also convicted of being involved in the supply of cannabis and amphetamines while Harkins was found guilty of supplying amphetamines.

Dalrymple and Elvin were only convicted of being involved in the drugs operation as couriers in 2009.

All five will be sentenced at a later date.

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