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Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh's secret snort codes did not save him from prison

Drugs kingpin used secret code, but was brought down due to the carelessness of others

Daniel Canning, Thomas Kavanagh and Gary Vickery.

Gary Vickery being extradited

Thomas Kavanagh. Photo: Jake King/PA Wire

Nicola Tallant

Their code language and nicknames sounded rather silly when read out in the solemn atmosphere at Court Number 2 at Ipswich Crown Court.

Gary Vickery, aka 'Jelly', sat stern-faced behind a glass screen, dressed in a suit, a blue shirt and a pink tie. Daniel Canning, aka 'Smiley', failed to break a grin, while Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh, aka 'Plasma', looked tense.

Martin Byrne, or 'Grumpy', another associate named in the file as a high-ranking member of the organisation, died of lung cancer in August 2018.

One other member of the group is missing - in the files he is simply called 'Polish man' - his fate unknown.

'The flat' was the codename for the Netherlands, 'The sun' for Spain, cocaine was called 'phones' while cannabis was 'jackets'.

The group had spoken in code and never used their own names and they celebrated when their drugs shipment got through - once on a trip to New York city - as Dublin shook from the onslaught of murder from the mob.

In the polite surrounds of the Ipswich Court, Bundle 'A' - a giant file of evidence, surveillance details and pictures of drugs, guns and the inside of the homes of Kavanagh and his co-accused - were handed out to a handful of journalists and to the defendants.

'Jelly', 'Smiley' and 'Plasma' could only have theirs after the staples were taken out of the pages and the steel clamps on the files were removed.

Flanked by prison officers, they have been in custody as they await sentence tomorrow in a case, the court was told, related to the activity of an organised criminal gang based in the UK's west Midlands during 2016 and 2017.

Within the book of evidence lay the language, the methods and the details of their enormous criminal empire, which turned them into multi-millionaires and flooded the UK with cannabis and cocaine.

Kavanagh's wife, Joanne Byrne, a sister of David Byrne, murdered at the Regency Hotel, sat with members of her family, while Vickery's wife, Nicola Connor, joined her as they awaited the fate of their husbands, named as numbers one and two in the operation.

A family-tree-style poster with a picture of 'Bomber' at the top was contained in the file with a line going downwards to Vickery, then further down to Canning and across to other men, Martin Byrne (deceased), an un-named Polish man who is missing but who was pinged on a GP tracker in Dublin and Emanuel Rosenzweig.

Thomas Kavanagh. Photo: Jake King/PA Wire

The reasons that the gang were busted are somewhat complex, but also a sure sign of how in the underworld eventually your luck runs out.

First, there was the discovery of a document in Dublin by Gardaí which led police to premises in the UK.

Then, there was the careless behaviour of Vickery - using his own credit card to purchase items found in the warehouses with the drugs, and the texts that Canning hadn't been deleting which led all the way back to the big man himself, the untouchable 'Bomber' Kavanagh.

Undoubtedly, 'The Gaffer', who regularly warned his subordinates to be careful and delete their communication, can thank his associates for the hefty sentence he is expected to land this week.

The complex freight of drugs into the UK and money back out had been uncovered after Gardaí raided Kavanagh's arms storehouse in Dublin in January 2017 and discovered a document identifying a UK-based transport company called Ebrex Limited, which shipped goods as a company called FAR Logistics.

The subsequent probe by the National Crime Agency (NCA) found that massive consignments of cannabis and cocaine were being imported into the UK from mainland Europe, concealed within items of machinery, and delivered by legitimate transportation and logistics companies.

Once they had arrived in the UK, the drugs would be removed and the machinery reloaded with cash, which was then sent back as payment.

When officers moved in on the group in October 2017 at Dover they found 15kgs of cocaine with a street value of £1.2 million (€1.4 million)and 200kgs of cannabis valued at £2 million.

The next day, premises linked to the importation were searched and a Smith and Wesson gun with 85 rounds of ammunition was found in a holdall inside a transformer machine.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that the NCA investigation had been conducted using surveillance, details garnered from GPS tracking devices and evidence around transportation and deliveries.

It also heard that the most crucial evidence came from probing communications amongst a selection of Pretty-Good-Privacy (PGP) encrypted mobile phones belonging to Canning.

Gary Vickery being extradited

'Smiley' it seemed had been careless and from three telephone seized from him during a search of his property and car, the other suspects in the case had been identified.

During his arrest, and that of Vickery, or 'Jelly', little was garnered - but items contained in the files, phones and money were found in their homes

In 2019, when officers raided Bomber's Tamworth mansion in Birmingham they found even more - but he was more careful.

Police found £8,000 stashed behind the cushions of a couch, almost €13,500 in seven handbags and a bundle of Arab Emirates Dirhams tied in an elastic band valued at £9,000 when they searched the house.

They also found 10 mobile phones, several SIM card holders and documents and receipts.

But during the arrest on January 12, 2019, Kavanagh refused to answer questions and instead issued police with a prepared statement the following November.

In it, he said he didn't know his co-accused Daniel Canning, nor deceased gang member Martin Byrne. He said he knew Gary Vickery through the car trade but denied any criminal contact with him.

During a second interview, he refused to answer questions.

But when the evidence was compiled it was damning and last year all three pleaded guilty to massive drugs charges.

The Covid-19 pandemic and a delay due to a Newton hearing - when they objected to the Crown's estimates of how much drugs they had imported - meant that both Canning and Vickery remained free despite their guilty pleas.

Canning eventually handed himself in last summer and Vickery was arrested in Lanzarote after police there discovered he was living on the island with wife Nicola and had taken over a lucrative boat-hire business.

But 'Bomber' has been doing his porridge. After his arrest in January 2019 and the discovery of a pink stun gun in his kitchen, he was placed in custody and has been there ever since. Whatever sentence he gets is sure to recognise his time already served.

Behind the glass screen he looked dour and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as details of the NCA case were read into the court record.

'Bomber' Kavanagh has been at the very top of his game for almost three decades, the last of which saw him become a leading force in organised crime in the UK.

He had tried his best to go undetected using code language for drugs, countries and money. But in the end it was the carelessness of others which sealed his fate; it was not of his own making.

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