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Suspected boss in botched €404m cocaine plot charged

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The Baltimore lifeboat recovering some of the huge haul of drugs that was washed ashore near Mizen Head

The Baltimore lifeboat recovering some of the huge haul of drugs that was washed ashore near Mizen Head

The crew of the Baltimore lifeboat retrieving bales of cocaine from the sea

The crew of the Baltimore lifeboat retrieving bales of cocaine from the sea

Gardai and Customs officers unload the cocaine from the catamaran 'Lucky Day' back in July 2007

Gardai and Customs officers unload the cocaine from the catamaran 'Lucky Day' back in July 2007

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A suspected ringleader of a gang which botched the £330m (€404m) Dunlough Bay cocaine smuggling plot has been charged.

Stephen Brown, 45 - believed to have been in charge of trafficking the 1,500kg (3,300lb) from Ireland to the UK in the summer of 2007 - made a brief appearance at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London.

Court officials confirmed Brown, who is accused of conspiring to import the 62 bales of high-grade Class A drugs into the UK, was remanded in custody.

The charge alleges he plotted with two other men to supply the drug to dealers across Britain.

Court officials said Brown, of no fixed address and who was flown from Madrid to Heathrow yesterday morning, will face trial in the Crown Court and is due before Southwark Court on July 3.

He had been detained in Spain on a European arrest warrant.

The audacious transatlantic smuggling plan foundered on a summer morning five years ago as the 62 bales were being offloaded in Dunlough Bay off Mizen Head in south west Cork from a catamaran called the Lucky Day on to a smaller boat.

The plot fell apart after one of the gang members filled the powerful outboard engines on the rigid inflatable boat (Rib) with diesel instead of petrol and the motors cut out, leaving the boat at the mercy of heavy seas.

The cocaine was found to have a purity level of more than 75pc, and was traced to the Medellin area of Colombia.

Brown, who has been on the run for five years, was considered to be the number one in the gang during its operations on the ground in Ireland.

According to court officials, he was charged with conspiring to import the consignment of Class A drugs along with two other men, Michael Joseph Daly and Alan John Wells.

The pair - Daly an ex-detective sergeant in the London Metropolitan Police drugs squad and "Big Al" Wells - were jailed for 22 years and 14 years respectively for their roles in the conspiracy plot after trials in Britain.

After the conspiracy was unearthed, it is thought that at least three men went on the run, with detectives fearing one man might have died and another might have been hiding out in Africa.

Others jailed over the smuggling plot were Daly's brother Joe, sentenced to 25 years, and police killer Perry Wharrie and Martin Wanden, both handed 30-year sentences after a trial in Cork.

Wharrie was out on licence from prison in Britain when arrested after being convicted of involvement in an armed robbery in which an off-duty policeman was shot dead.

Gerard Hagan, of Hollowcroft, Liverpool, who swam to safety when the boat's engine cut out, pleaded guilty and was jailed for 10 years.

A farmer on the West Cork peninsula helped raise the alarm over the botched drugs transfer after he awoke early one summer morning to find a man in wet clothes at his door. The man, who had swum to shore from the Rib, was given dry clothes and tea and told the farmer not to call the police.

But the alarm was raised when the farmer looked out on to Dunlough Bay and saw another man on the boat battling against the heavy seas.

The investigation into the smuggling plot involved the Metropolitan Police, the Garda in Ireland and authorities across Europe.