THE owner of a cold storage business in Wigan has told a jury that he had no idea that a consignment of meat delivered to his premises contained cocaine.
The drugs, which had a potential street value of £140m, were in 16 black holdalls placed on top of the frozen meat consignment from Argentina.
Liam Dooney, 41, of Wakefield Crescent, Standish, is on trial at Liverpool Crown Court where he denies conspiring to smuggle the cocaine between January 1 and May 17 this year and conspiring to supply it.
The jury has heard that the drugs were found by chance during a check because of an e-coli scare when the container arrived at Tilbury Docks.
The cocaine, which was in 400 compressed blocks was removed after the find by UK Border Agency officers and a vet, and replaced with dummy packages of bricks.
The load was delivered as planned by the conspirators behind the importation to Wigan (Cold) Storage Ltd but unknown to them the drugs had been substituted and a video camera and audio equipment had been installed and it was loaded onto a lorry driven by an under-cover policeman.
Dooney told the court that 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.
He claimed he was from Masterfoods and asked for a quote for the business. “He talked the talk, he seemed very knowledgeable,” said Dooney.
After the deal was agreed Mr Topps “spoke about meat samples and said they would be easily identifiable.”
Dooney said that Mr Topps talked about sending him a lot of business and mentioned Heinz which he was pleased about as his father used to deal with them. “It was potentially a big job for us,” he explained.
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.
But he explained he was not concerned as he would be holding £50,000 worth of his frozen meat which he could sell if no one came to collect it.
Video footage of when the container was opened has been played to the jury in which one of Dooney’s workers is heard exclaiming “bags of drugs” but Dooney said he did not hear him say that at the time.
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.