KZN court convicts Britons in drugs case

2007-12-13 00:00

Two Britons currently resident in South Africa, John Tutton (57) and Tommy McKinnon (35), have been found guilty in the Camperdown Regional Court of international drug dealing charges, one of which involves the second largest consignment of cocaine ever seized in South Africa. The 150 kg of white cocaine powder were seized from a warehouse in Tongaat on October 4 last year.

Police sources have previously estimated the street value of the cocaine to be about R200 million.

The other charge on which Tutton and McKinnon were convicted is dealing in 8,1 tons of compressed dagga seized by the British authorities at Felixstowe harbour in the UK on September 10 last year.

The court heard evidence that the drugs were smuggled to the UK concealed in shipments of mirrors and furniture.

The man believed to have masterminded and driven the operation from the United Kingdom, Robert “Bob” Flook, has already been convicted overseas in connection with the dagga consignment. However, he has yet to be sentenced after the judge presiding over the case there fell gravely ill.

According to legal sources, Tutton and McKinnon face a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment in respect of each of the two charges.

They have been in custody since their arrest last October.

The third co-accused, Umhlanga businessman Ernest Smith (59), was acquitted of all charges. Smith was the only accused who was granted bail, of R30 000.

Heuer has not yet given reasons for his verdict and said he will deliver a full judgment on December 21.

He ordered Smith to attend court for the judgment.

After the case, Smith told The Witness he was greatly relieved and happy about the outcome.

“The past 14 months has been an absolute nightmare,” the KZN court convicts Britons in drugs case Edinburgh-born former accused said.

He said he has lived in South Africa for 40 years and has no plans to leave the country.

“I always knew that I was innocent. They [his co-accused] were my friends … I was set up,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Smith, who owns a business called Umhlanga Shop Fitters, was implicated after joining in the accused’s business operations.

They initially operated from a warehouse in Gillitts Road, Pinetown, and later from Tongaat, where the cocaine was seized.

Tutton claimed in testimony that he acted merely as an agent for Flook’s South Africa business operations and that he was unaware of drugs being exported. McKinnon, an employee, also denied knowing about the drug smuggling operation.

The accused and Flook were alleged by the state to have used two British entities, Play Away Events and P & G Mirrors, for the purpose of smuggling drugs to the UK, and made use of the services of Tonlee Glass, Spectrum Shipping, Megatrade and Mgeni Shipping to export the drugs from SA, concealed in the crates of furniture and mirrors.

All three accused were acquitted earlier in the case on two charges that they dealt in unknown quantities of cocaine between February 2004 and April 2006, and of dealing in unknown quantities of dagga between April 2005 and May 2006.

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