Kettering man held by police in connection with international cocaine smuggling plot

A man believed to be from Kettering has been arrested alonside a Briton wanted by police over an alleged multi-million pound cocaine smuggling plot.

Lee Dryden, 49, was held with another British man, understood to be from Kettering, and two Germans in an international operation last week in Portugal after a separate haul of the drug was found on a yacht, it was disclosed today.

Officers from the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre, which employs staff from various different countries including the UK, seized 178 kilos of cocaine from a yacht called Delfin in Olhao in the Algarve.

The yacht had travelled from South America, a spokesman for the Serious Organised Crime Agency said.

Dryden has been wanted by British police for questioning since 2007, when a boat carrying bales of the drug capsized off the coast of Ireland.

It is understood that officers had been tracking the alleged drug smugglers for a year before last week’s seizure.

Head of operations at the MAOC in Lisbon, Conor Shields, said: “The operation came to a conclusion at the back end of last week when the Portuguese police seized 178 kilos of cocaine and arrested four men.

“There was strong international co-operation between a number of countries that led to the seizure.

“The international investigation is ongoing and then it will be for the Portuguese authorities to decide whether to prosecute. Any other interests will then be put forward.”

He said that it is common for smugglers to try to bring the drug from South America or the Caribbean to Europe.

“Since MAOC was set up in 2007 we’re seen all sorts of routes, in more recent times we’ve been tracking a lot of yacht traffic from the Caribbean and South America.

“Another one is to go from those areas to West Africa where law enforcement is more difficult - it’s become quite a transfer point for cocaine to be brought into Europe.”

A fifth person was arrested in Spain in connection with the investigation.

The 2007 plot emerged when an inflatable boat loaded with cocaine with an estimated street value of £323 million capsized in heavy seas off the coast of south west Ireland in July that year.

One of the men involved had filled the fuel tank with diesel instead of petrol, which caused the engine to cut out.

Bales of cocaine, which it was believed had come from Columbia and were carried from Barbados on a catamaran called Lucky Day, were left floating in the sea.

Four men - Liverpudlian Gerard Hagan, former policeman Michael Daly and his brother Joe, convicted police killer Perry Wharrie and another man Martin Wanden - were arrested and later convicted of involvement in the smuggling plot.