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About thirty passengers turned down the in-flight meal..drug mules don't have room left in their stomachs.

Byline: JEFF EDWARDS, Chief Crime Correspondent

IT was 8pm and the sun had gone down at Jamaica's Norman Manley International Airport but the temperature was still a baking 82F.

Perhaps that was why the girl in front of me at the check-in for Air Jamaica Flight 003 to London was sweating.

Maybe her blue denim jacket was too warm for the humid weather. Or perhaps it was because the 12 ounces of cocaine in 60 condoms she had swallowed was giving her heartburn.

Later on she turns down the in-flight dinner, sitting in her seat with eyes closed and rubbing her stomach.

Those who have swallowed cocaine cannot eat until packages of the drug pass through their body. After the meal I ask a stewardess how many people refused their food. She replies: "About 30."

Today The Mirror exposes how huge quantities of drugs are smuggled by air to Britain from Jamaica.

On just TWO Air Jamaica flights, 27 out of 440 passengers were found to be carrying drugs.

Eleven had swallowed them in condoms, six had narcotics elsewhere on their person or in their luggage. Ten others never boarded flights as they were collared before take-off.

Cocaine worth pounds 1.2million on the streets and pounds 120,000 worth of cannabis were seized. Another 72 passengers were detained at Heathrow as "suspicious", with 42 barred from the country.

Of those, 22 were known gunmen or gangsters and 20 were travelling on false documents. Four suspects waiting to collect drug couriers were held in the arrivals area and a fifth outside.

Britain's Deputy High Commissioner in Jamaica, Phil Sinkinson, has claimed one in 10 passengers flying Air Jamaica to the UK is a runner, with each carrying up to 30kgs of drugs.

Police say the estimated pounds 6million a week drugs carried on Air Jamaica is fuelling gun crime here. There were 30 murders and more than 500 shootings linked to the crack trade in the last year.

But Customs officers are overwhelmed. At Heathrow, they have only eight cells for 200 drug couriers a week.

Courier who have swallowed drugs can occupy a cell for five days. They must be watched round the clock by three eight-hour shifts of two jailers each.

A front-line officer said: "We're hopelessly under equipped to deal with this rocketing problem.

"Some gangsters send over a few couriers with small amounts of cocaine, not minding if they get caught. Once they know we're at full capacity, they stick up to 20 more couriers on the next day's flight knowing there's nothing we can do to intercept them. It's a scandal."

I was waiting to board Flight 003 after being exclusively invited to witness a combined police and Customs clamp on the scourge of Air Cocaine.

To my right a man of about 21 was arguing furiously with security guards rummaging through his hand baggage which had already been checked in.

The guards correctly suspected that white powder found in a package was cocaine. The man was arrested.

Nine other suspects at Kingston, and at Montego Bay airport up the coast where a sister flight was boarding, also only got as far as check-in.

With an hour to boarding, Denim Girl was suffering. Aged about 18, travelling solo, carrying only hand baggage, she perfectly fitted Customs' profile of a mule - a courier paid a pittance to run drugs for the ruthless gangs.

I did not know if she was a regular but this time she was certain to be stopped.

Under secret plans every Jamaican passport holder disembarking in Britain from the two Sunday night flights from Jamaica was to be screened by Immigration, police and Customs.

Climbing the steps of Air Jamaica's new silver 278-seat Airbus A340 I glanced at my fellow passengers - 221 of them - and wondered how many would be sweating with nerves. There were young men in sharp threads with flashy gold neck chains and young women in pounds 100 tailored jeans. There was a scattering of Rastafarians, a Tina Turner lookalike, elderly women and a few men in business suits.

At Heathrow, UK passport holders - about 10 of us - were waved through Immigration with only a cursory glance at our passports.

All those on Jamaican passports were met by a phalanx of plain clothes officials manning each desk.

They asked each arrival why they were coming to Britain, how long they meant to stay, and the name and address of those they would be staying with. Normally, giving a name and address is enough to be waved through.

Not this time. Police from London, West Midlands, Bristol, Leeds and Nottingham were waiting to lift those whose answers did not add up.

Details of each story were phoned through to the relevant districts and officers sent to check them out. Within 60 minutes the impatient, waiting queues were swollen by another 200-plus passengers from the Montego Bay flight.

There were angry arguments. But Immigration staff, backed by police with guns and dogs, stood firm.

Hours later, 72 passengers were detained. After further checks, 42 were refused entry to the UK.

That was just the start. Every one of those who cleared Immigration faced a Customs search.

During the long hold-up at Immigration, investigators using sniffer dogs and the latest anti- narcotics technology had secretly checked every item of baggage.

Several bags produced positive results. So did several stomachs.

Eleven passengers, including Denim Girl, had a bellyful of cocaine. Six were bound for Bristol, the others for South London.

There were still others to be plucked. Officers watched as a man in a smart jacket walked to Arrivals.

He was met by two men who shook his hand. The jacket was handed over, and police pounced.

Dogs had detected a package containing a kilo of cocaine worth pounds 80,000 stitched inside the lining.

A kilo of cocaine was detected in the briefcase of a German girl. The girl was allowed to go through to the exit hall, where she was met by two Jamaican men. All were seized.

Next to fall was a man with a box packed with bars of soap in his luggage. Inside the soap was a kilo of cocaine plus a kilo of cannabis worth about pounds 20,000. Another passenger brought in a case of Jamaican rum.Suspended in the alcohol were three kilos of Columbian cocaine, worth nearly pounds 250,000 on the streets.

A second man had half a kilo of cocaine in a bottle of rum. A third had a kilo of cocaine and a kilo of cannabis hidden in cakes.

Outside Terminal Three, police seized a man in his silver BMW.

He was suspected of being due to meet a courier. A loaded hand gun was found in the car.

Air Jamaica - which runs nine services a week to Britain - and the Jamaican Government have not commented on the problem.

The Home Office insists the answer is to stop the drugs leaving Jamaica.

Tell that to Superintendent Devon Watkiss of the Jamaican police. He told me: "The drug couriers are expendable - and there's never a shortage of new recruits."

On the flight from Kingston and the one following an hour later from Montego Bay there should have been a total of 440 passengers

Of those, 10 were arrested at the two Jamaican airports before boarding after police found they were carrying consignments of cocaine

On arrival in London, 42 passengers were refused entry, either because they were on false passports, were known gunman or drug gang members, or had given a false story about where they were going to be staying in Britain

11 passengers were found to be carrying consignments of cocaine packed in condoms which they had swallowed

6 more were arrested with large quantities of drugs on them

1 Jamaican man had three kilos of cocaine concealed inside several bottles of rum

A second Jamaican had half a kilo of cocaine hidden in one bottle of rum

1 German woman had a kilo of cocaine in her briefcase

A third Jamaican man had a kilo of cocaine and a kilo of cannabis hidden in a consignment of cakes

A fourth Jamaican had a kilo of cocaine concealed in bars of soap

A fifth person had a kilo of cocaine sewed into the lining of a jacket.

4 men waiting to greet drug runners were arrested in the arrivals area

A fifth man, waiting to meet a 'mule' was arrested in his silver BMW outside Terminal Three. He had an automatic pistol hidden under the driver's seatTHE TALLY

CAPTION(S):

DEADLY CARGO; X-ray shows swallowed condoms full of cocaine; ALL WASHED UP; Smuggler's soap full of cocaine and cannabis; HIDDEN IN SUIT; Cocaine in jacket would have netted pounds 80,000; SPIRITED AWAY; Case of rum had cocaine dissolved in it; COCAINE EXPRESS: Passengers board Air Jamaica flight 003 to London Picture: ROGER ALLEN; CHECKING IN: Mirrorman Jeff Edwards; FLYING IN: Air Jamaica has nine services a week to UK
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 8, 2002
Words:1500
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