Senior Kinahan associate Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh jailed for 21 years for leading €36m drug trafficking network

Robin Schiller

The Kinahan cartel's "main man in the UK" has been jailed for 21 years for leading a crime network that trafficked €36m worth of drugs in a single year.

Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh (54) was at the head of the "highly sophisticated" operation which imported commercial loads of cocaine and cannabis hidden inside industrial units into the UK.

The crime group operated across seven countries, used codenames to secretly conduct business and utilised GPS devices to track the drug shipments and cash payments.

Three key members of the gang were today jailed at Ipswich Crown Court for a total of 60 years for conspiring to import class A and B drugs into England as well as money laundering offences.

'Bomber' Kavanagh, who was codenamed 'The Gaffer', was given the longest prison term for his role at the top of the network and jailed for 21 years.

His second-in-command Gary Vickery (39) oversaw the day-to-day running of the criminal enterprise and passed on directions to his subordinates. He was given a 20-year jail term.

Vickery's brother-in-law Daniel Canning (43), who would travel across continental Europe to monitor shipments and was also convicted for possession of a firearm, was jailed for 19 and a half years.

All three men are originally from Dublin but had been living in the Birmingham area, and will serve half of their prison terms in custody and the remainder on licence.

Judge Martyn Levett said that the drug importation case was one of the most serious that had come before the court with each defendant a "leading mind" in the syndicate.

Aggravating factors included the substantial cash gain to be made, the significant efforts made to avoid detection, and that the successful operation would have continued but for a shipment being intercepted in October 2017.

Orders were also made for the defendants to disclose any assets they own around the world by a later date.

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) today described Kavanagh as a "high-ranking member of the Kinahan cartel, an organised crime group synonymous with acts of violence. He was their main man in the UK."

Deputy director Matt Horne also said: "Through their criminal connections overseas, his organisation was able to organise, import and distribute drugs worth many millions of pounds.

"These men considered themselves to be untouchable, but we were able to systematically dismantle the group and prove that this was not the case.

The inner workings of the gang's drug network were laid bare in court with details outlined of their transport routes, how they disguised their shipments, and the codenames they used to operate under the radar.

The investigation was sparked after gardaí seized a large quantity of firearms and drugs in Dublin in January 2017. The seizure targeted Kavanagh's associate in Ireland, Declan Brady, known as 'Mr Nobody'.

The NCA were then notified of connected logistics companies in the west Midlands that were later linked to Vickery and Canning.

Investigators began conducting surveillance and uncovered a significant drug network in which industrial machinery was used to conceal "enormous commercial quantities" of drugs being brought in before the cash payments were returned in the same equipment in a "carousel" operation.

Cannabis was branded with the words 'Rolex' and 'Manchester United' while cocaine was labelled '54'.

The court heard that tracking devices, linked to Vickery, were used to monitor shipments as they travelled through Europe and onto front companies in Wolverhampton and Wednesbury in the west Midlands.

The gang had connections in France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain and the west Midlands.

The drug network was foiled when €4m worth of drugs were found hidden in a tarmac remover machine seized at the port of Dover.

NCA identified 22 further importations and it was inferred that, between October 2016 and October 2017, the crime group imported between 600kg and 800kg of cannabis, and 292kg of cocaine, with a maximum total street value of nearly £30 million (€36m).

Ms Karmy-Jones said that the limited communications from Kavanagh was consistent with him being "sat at the top" of the hierarchy, removing himself from direct involvement.

The gang used codenames with Vickery known as 'Jelly', Canning as 'Smiley', and another associate Martin Byrne as 'Scissors' or 'Grumpy'.

Kavanagh went by several aliases including 'Plasma', 'The Gaffer' and 'Mallet'.

The criminal network also used codewords when communicating to disguise their illicit dealings.

Kilos of cocaine were referred to as 'Phones', 'Ricky' or TNT'; money was called 'Paper'; while the tarmac removal machinery used was referred to as 'Bens' or 'Sister'.

The gang also used codewords for locations, with Spain called 'The Hot' and The Netherlands being 'The Flat'.

At the time of one shipment Vickery sent an image to his wife from New York of a group of men including himself and Kavanagh, along with the message: "Haha this is worth the money."

The group also showed they were forensically aware, with one message on March 21, 2017 reading: "Make sure yiz delete the messages all the time."

One email from Kavanagh, sent a week before the Dover bust, read: "Ta put safe in sister and jelly b on in couple hours did not want to get him up tis morning from beauty sleep :)".

Evidence was given that 'Bomber' has 16 previous convictions dating back to 1986 including burglary, firearms possession and assault, as well as three years for possession of a concealed stun gun when the NCA raided his home, while Vickery and Canning had none.

The court was told that Vickery was a step below Kavanagh, holding an organisational role and delegating instructions to his brother-in-law.

A search of his home led to almost €200,000 being recovered along with phones, encrypted devices, paperwork for the trackers and 25kg of boric acid used to cut cocaine.

Canning played a pivotal role managing the day-to-day operations, often travelling to mainland Europe "at the drop of a hat" to oversee drug shipments that were destined for the UK.

He was linked to the warehouse through CCTV, while his DNA was also found where the Smith and Wesson gun recovered.

The court was told that Kavanagh claimed there were people not before the court operating at a higher level.

When police searched his home they recovered multiple mobile phones, an array of weapons, and over €40,000 in varying currency.

The gang also included German national Nicholas Wall, who was in direct contact with Kavanagh and oversaw the operation on the mainland through a legitimate transportation company.

Another key member was a mysterious Polish man living in Dublin, referred to as 'Z', who organised GPS trackers and owned a business in Barcelona where drug payments were sent to.

Also involved was Irish man Martin Byrne who helped with the unloading of the drugs and loading the cash.

His DNA was found on a weapon recovered during the investigation. He died of lung cancer in 2018.

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