THE owner of a Wigan cold storage business has been cleared of involvement in a £140m cocaine smuggling plot.
A jury took just four hours to unanimously acquit Liam Dooney of both conspiring to smuggle cocaine and conspiracy to supply it.
Mr Dooney, 41, broke down in the dock with relief at the verdicts and his friends and relatives in the public gallery were plainly delighted and his sister broke down in tears.
Mr Dooney, of Wakefield Crescent, Standish, who has been in custody since his arrest at Euston Station on the day of the FA Cup Final on May 11, was discharged from the dock at Liverpool Crown Court.
He told the court during the week long trial that he had been unwittingly duped by the gang behind the importation
It had been alleged by the prosecution that he was part of the gang who organised the importation of 400 compressed blocks of the drug hidden in a consignment of frozen beef from Argentina.
Unknown to the conspirators the container had been opened at Tilbury docks because of an e-coli scare and the drug, hidden inside the holdalls, were found by Border Agency officers.
They were replaced with bricks and a secret video camera installed. An under-cover police officer then delivered the load with the dummy packages to Mr Dooney’s yard.
Footage showing the moment the container was opened at the business, of which Mr Dooney is the managing director, was shown to the jury of eight men and four women.
Mr Dooney denied that he had known anything about the drugs and explained how arrangements for the meat to be palletised and stored at his premises had been made after a man calling himself Malcolm Topps contacted his firm.
The court has heard that Masterfoods, allegedly based in Manchester, was a fake business and Dooney said that he had been unable to set up an account for the job on his computer as Mr Topps had not supplied him with company details.
Mr Dooney said that although he had never seen meat samples in holdalls before he did not look inside them and just had them unloaded and placed together. “We do not look in customers goods unless they ask us to. It is not my business what is inside them,” he said.
The delivery to the premises in Miry Lane took place on the morning of Friday, May 10 this year and the next morning Merseyside man James Mossman arrived at the yard, which was not usually open at the weekend.
Dooney put two of the holdalls, which had each contained 25 kilos of cocaine, in Mossman’s van and he drove off. But shortly afterwards he stopped and after opening the bags and finding they contained bricks he abandoned them in Merton Road, Wigan.
Mossman, 37, of Delaware Crescent, Kirkby, has already pleaded guilty to his involvement and will be sentenced at a later date