Seventy year old pensioners Derek Mercer and John Rowe are now behind bars for tryiing to smuggle cannabis from Holland disguised as frozen chicken.
The consignments were first shipped from Holland to a bonded meat warehouse in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
London’s Southwark Crown Court heard the gang then collected the pallets and delivered them to a haulage and storage company in Grays, Essex.
Andrew Marshall, prosecuting, said from there they were “very quickly” distributed to customers.
Haulage boss Derek Mercer, 70, of Sandown Road, South Norwood, south-east London, and John Rowe, also 70, of Mansford Street, Bethnal Green, east London, both denied knowing anything about the drug.
Mercer insisted all he knew was someone had simply paid to use his yard, while Rowe – who has a previous conviction 10 years ago for “harbouring” 66lbs of cannabis – maintained he was only doing a friend a £500 favour to look after some bags in his car.
“I was asked to pick these bags up for the money and that is what I did. I don’t know what was in them,” Rowe insisted.
But the jury convicted both of “being knowingly concerned” in smuggling the Class B drug into Britain on or before 16 March this year.
Both were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on Friday with three other men who admitted taking part.
They are Patrick Maloney, 51, of Turquand Street, Southwark, south-east London; Russ O’Cuneff, 51, of Glengarnock Avenue, Poplar, east London; and Wattie Soutter, 68, of Raymouth Road, Rotherhithe, south-east London.
Marshall said police spent some time secretly tracking the gang’s movements before raiding Mercer’s haulage company nearly six months ago.
All five defendants were arrested at the scene although two other men – Anthony Fraser and Neil Mulligan – who were also allegedly involved “did a runner”.
The barrister said a search of the premises uncovered 1.4 tonnes of cannabis in Mercer’s warehouse “waiting for the customers”.
A further 880lbs were recovered from Soutter’s van, while 132lbs of the more potent “skunk” form of the drug, worth £200,000, was found in Rowe’s Volvo Estate.
The entire consignment was later valued at “about £5million”.
Referring to 12 previous smuggling runs discovered by investigators, he added: “Even this importation alone ranks as a major one, but when you look back and see how many have gone in previously you can see really quite massive quantities of cannabis resin have been brought into the country in this way.
“It is really a significant drug smuggling enterprise.”
In evidence Mercer maintained he had been approached three weeks earlier by someone he knew only as Tony for the use of his yard for a “loading and unloading” exercise.
As far as he was concerned it was a normal commercial transaction.
Nevertheless, he still asked if there was anything “iffy” going on, but was assured everything was above board.
“I didn’t really know it was drugs, I can tell you that,” he added.
by: Lara Deauville