An organised crime boss described as a most wanted fugitive after going on the run in 2018 has been jailed after his extradition to the UK from Thailand.
Richard Wakeling arrived back in the country on Thursday evening and appeared at Chelmsford crown court on Friday afternoon, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
He had fled the UK shortly before the start of his 12-week trial. Despite his absence, he was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison – a sentence the NCA said he has now begun to serve.
“Richard Wakeling thought he could avoid facing justice by leaving the UK. But the hard work of NCA officers – both here in the UK and overseas – and that of our international partners, has put him behind bars for a lengthy prison sentence,” said the NCA’s regional head of investigations, Jacque Beer.
“This case highlights the NCA’s global reach, and that we will do everything we can to ensure those who commit serious and organised crime are held accountable for their actions, no matter how long it takes or how far they flee”.
Wakeling tried to import £8m worth of amphetamine suspended in liquid in 2016. After his detention in February at a Bangkok garage where he was collecting his car after repairs, he was escorted back to Heathrow by specialist officers from the Joint International Crime Centre’s extradition unit.
At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of a passport in another identity. The NCA began its investigation into Wakeling’s organised crime group after Border Force officers stopped a truck boarding a Channel tunnel train on 9 April 2016. The truck contained plastic drums carrying the drugs.
The driver was transporting furniture from Italy but stopped at Ternat in Belgium, where phone evidence showed he was directed to collect the drugs.
The NCA said the entire importation was set up by Wakeling, who was in contact with drug suppliers in the Netherlands and liaised with two other UK offenders to arrange the journey.
Officers proved the crime group had organised six other importations before the 2016 seizure.
At the time of Wakeling’s arrest, the NCA’s regional manager for Thailand, David Coyle, said it was an example of how international cooperation could bring about justice. “The NCA has worked relentlessly to trace Wakeling and ensure he returns to the UK to serve his prison sentence.
“I thank the prosecutors of the attorney general’s office, the Royal Thai police and the commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau for their extensive work helping us identify and arrest Wakeling.”