London, Aug. 6: An Indian baggage handler at London’s Heathrow airport — nicknamed “Thiefrow” by some — was today given an exemplary 19-year jail sentence for being the “key inside man” in a plot to smuggle 9 kg of cocaine into the UK from South America.
The sentence will serve as a warning to the large numbers of Indians employed in positions of trust at Heathrow, which is in the vicinity of Southall and Ealing, two heavily Asian areas of London.
The vast majority of the Indian employees at Heathrow, who serve in all positions ranging from senior immigration and customs officials to baggage and cleaning staff, are impeccably honest.
However, from time to time, people like Kamaljit Bassi, who give in to the temptation of making easy money, show up.
Sentencing Bassi at Guildford Crown Court, Judge Peter Testar told him: “What you did was extremely serious because you were prepared to commit the most appalling breach of trust.”
Bassi, 40, who wore a jacket and shirt and spectacles, showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down.
After a three-month trial, he was found guilty on two counts of conspiracy to import controlled drugs into the UK.
Two others were in the gang with Bassi. His co-defendants, Junior Royes, 39, of Kensal Green, west London, and Brian Emile, 49, of Greenford, west London, were both jailed for 17 years after being convicted of one count of conspiracy to import controlled drugs.
The judge told the three that a civilised society must do everything possible to stamp out the trade in Class A drugs.
“Each of you three made the deliberate decision to make a profit for himself out of this obscene traffic and now you must pay the price,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Carlton Joseph, 54, of Harringay, north London, and Rachelle Chapman, a 19-year-old childminder from Balham, south London, were cleared of one count of conspiracy to import controlled drugs each. The pair was arrested on February 16 last year after he had flown in from Brazil and she from Guyana.
But it turned out that the pair was innocent passengers who had unwittingly carried the cocaine in their baggage.
Cocaine disguised as chocolate bars was inserted into Chapman’s case while gift-wrapped packages containing drugs had been placed in Joseph’s baggage.
But in an elaborate customs operation involving officers from Britain, Brazil, Barbados and Spain, the illegal substances were swapped for dummy drugs before the bags reached the UK.
The parcels found in Joseph’s bag contained 6.2 kg of cocaine at 98 per cent purity, with a street value of £414,565. A mixture of powdered cocaine and crack worth £229,744 was recovered from Chapman’s bag, with the crack being hidden inside Cadbury’s Whole Nut bars and the powder hidden in coffee and other items.
Bassi fell for the trap. Unaware of the switch, he prised the items out of the bags before they reached the baggage carousel at Heathrow and hid them in a locker until his shift ended.
Bassi was arrested later that day when customs officers sprang a surprise visit at a McDonald’s car park in north London where he had agreed to meet Royes to hand over the supposed drugs.
He later admitted that he had taken the items out but said he thought he was taking part in a £1 million diamond smuggling scheme which could have netted him half the proceeds.