£6.5million of cocaine imported into Port of Liverpool inside barrels of limes

Dale Campbell, 40, formerly of Hillside Drive in Woolton
Dale Campbell was previously locked up as part of the plot -Credit:Merseyside Police

A corrupt dock worker was recruited to smuggle 82kg of cocaine into the Port of Liverpool inside barrels of limes.

Peter McQuade acted as a "pull out man" who helped to sneak drugs worth £6.5m out of shipping containers following their arrival in the country. His services were also enlisted by Robert Bennett, a grandad who became embroiled in plots to traffic hundreds of kilos of the class A drug into the UK from the Netherlands and South America.

Liverpool Crown Court heard yesterday that the 50-year-old utilised the handle "Dior6" on EncroChat before the encrypted communications platform was infiltrated by French police in 2020. Messages obtained by law enforcement authorities detailed his involvement in the importation of 97kg of cocaine from Holland on April 9 that year.

READ MORE: 'You need to grow up' judge tells young dad after his 'stupid' actions

READ MORE: £100,000 of cocaine and crack discovered in Footasylum bag as police raid flat

Martin Snowdon, prosecuting, described how Bennett, originally from Huyton but of Smithy Glen Drive in Orrell, was involved in "discussions about the transportation arrangements and costs" of this shipment. He was assigned a 2kg portion of the total delivery for a price of £58,225 and charged £2,500 for each kilogram imported - a fee to be split between himself and the user of the handle "FullFlock".

In return, Bennett organised for a driver to receive the consignment. This included providing a burner phone for his recruit before "taking the blower off him" afterwards.

Over the coming days, Full Flock arranged for the collection of the "taxi money" to be handed over to Bennett and given on to the courier. Bennett and his associate spoke of making £216,000 between them after deducting £45,000 in expenses, while he also stood to net a profit of £17,775 on his share of the cocaine.

Another contact, "OneBread", was enlisted in order to carry out the handover of these drugs on April 16. The defendant meanwhile "brokered" two further sales from Full Flock's 15kg stake.

In another mooted schemed, Bennett and McQuade communicated via the service as they sought to ship 300kg of cocaine into the Port of Liverpool from Brazil. The latter, who used the handle "NinjaBasil", was tasked with "retrieving the drugs from shopping containers" in his role as an operations manager at the port.

The 39-year-old, of Downside Close in Netherton, was described as the "pull out man" and was said to have been involved in a previous importation of 150kg of the class A substance through his employment with Peel Ports. Bennett told the user "SinCityGold" in one message on April 26: "They done one a few months ago, 150 on it."

Another port operative, Kevin Murphy, was referred to as "nephew" by Bennett "because of familial relations, although he was not actually his nephew". This co-conspirator was said to have acted as a "facilitator of communication" between him and McQuade.

Bennett was described as having engaged in "discussions surrounding the feasibility of an importation from South America" with both Full Flock and Sin City Gold, who sounded out suppliers in Colombia who required proof of a successful dummy run before they would agree to any deal. He met with Murphy at his home on May 1 before messaging Full Flock: "Just in nephew's, he just popped out to give lad the details of that box."

Cell siting data then suggested a meeting between McQuade and Murphy near to Gilmoss Industrial Estate in Fazakerley. A day later, Bennett was involved in the handover of 2kg of cocaine to McQuade for a price of £37,000 per kilo "as an incentive to cement their business relationship".

Full Flock and Bennett also discussed potential importation routes from Ecuador and Costa Rica, while McQuade advised his co-defendant over the "best containers to use to avoid the consignment being intercepted by the port authorities". The dad-of-two told him: "Fridges are defo the hardest.

"The place is camera'd up. We've got a couple of blind spots, but wouldn't be able to put a fridge box in there."

Bennett subsequently passed this intelligence on to Full Flock. McQuade added that "working with Brazil was a nightmare" and said: "Prob opened five boxes from there and been nothing in them."

He also described having "done a job a few years ago from Ecuador", smuggling drugs into the port in a container of tinned tuna. The worker said he could "take up to 500kg" and discussed the "use of legitimate companies and replica seals".

McQuade outlined how they could claim that the containers had been damaged in order to gain access to the goods inside in private. Then, on May 20, Murphy "alerted Bennett to a potential issue regarding the box".

Bennett subsequently told Sin City Gold that he had "lost that girl's number", which Ms Snowdon said was a "coded reference to the details of a container" supplied on May 1. This message read: "Think pull out has lot this number for the Chile box.

"Nephew belled me to come and see him and he phoned pull out in work. He said he lost girl's phone number."

Bennett provided an update to Full Flock on May 23, telling him that "everything had been delayed for the last few days because of wind". Then, on May 30, the two hatched a plan to import 300kg of cocaine from Brazil at a cost of $7,500 per kilo.

As part of this arrangement, Bennett was to keep 10kg for onward supply and was said to have handed over £97,000 in payment for these drugs. The messages ended on June 5 2020, when Full Flock told Bennett he was "waiting to hear from Brazil, who had told him they would load tonight".

McQuade was also implicated in a further plot to smuggle drugs in via the port during 2021. This concerned the arrival of a container carrying barrels of limes in salt on July 22 that year.

This consignment was reported as damaged, allowing him to divert it into a shed "where its contents could be accessed out of sight". McQuade transported the shipment into this area using a tug on July 25 before removing two barrels and loading them onto the back of a Peugeot van, which was driven to another part of the docks.

That evening, he drove an empty flat bed truck into the shed. After returning in the early hours of the following morning, he removed the vehicle with eight barrels onboard.

These were then taken to the home of Dale Campbell on Hillside Drive in Woolton and unloaded. There, the barrels were cut open and had their contents removed.

McQuade would return to work on July 27, when another barrel was removed from the container and placed on the back of a Volkswagen Caddy. The van was collected by Campbell and driven in convoy by another male, but was then stopped by the police.

The barrel was subsequently found to contain 82 1kg packages of cocaine with a purity of up to 83 per cent and an estimated street value of £6.5million. On an earlier occasion in April 2021, Campbell was evidenced to have delivered a quantity of cash to McQuade's home address.

This money was then collected by a third man, Jack Scott, before the bag - which contained £220,585 - was intercepted by the police. Following his arrest, McQuade moved a further £236,630 from his property into a neighbour's house before this too was seized and another £35,000 was found in Scott's house.

Bennett was arrested on October 3 2021, with McQuade being detained on November 2 the same year. Both gave no comment under interview.

The former has 11 previous convictions for 22 offences, but none for drug trafficking and no brushes with the law since 1998. Matthew Ryder KC, defending Bennett, told the court: "His personal stake in the importation was small, and he stood to gain comparatively modest remuneration given what was being planned by those who owned the drugs and were supplying them.

"In relation to the Brazil conspiracy, his stake would have been 10kg of the 300kg. We know, in the end, it did not result in any importation and there was no remuneration.

"In relation to the Holland conspiracy, his was an operational and logistical role in making contact with the driver and assisting with transportation. He has an additional 2kg of the 97kg from which he would obtain a further reward.

"The stake and interest, we say, is actually 12kg. It does give a different approach than if this was a 400kg conspiracy.

"He turned 50 in September last year while on remand for these offences, he has three daughters and five grandchildren. His mother, his sister, his fiancée, her daughter, his daughters and others are all here in court today to support him in what on any view is a truly tragic moment for him and his family at this stage in his life.

"Bob Bennett was born and brought up in Huyton in the 1970s. As a mixed race boy, growing up in Huyton at that time was not easy.

"If you spent five minutes with Bob Bennett, it is very difficult to understand why he is here. He does not fit in in the way he presents himself, as someone you would expect to see in this way.

"He did not have many opportunities presented to him growing up. He had a very poor background and difficult circumstances.

"That is part of why there are a number of convictions for theft and other matters in his teenage years and 20s. Apart from a period in a young offenders' institute at 18, he has never been to custody.

"He tells me he had not been arrested, until these matters, for 27 years. He never really found his own niche in working life.

"Notwithstanding that, he has supported himself and his family by working a shadow economy. One of the things he did was touting football tickets.

"It is in this sense that someone like him can become entangled in the biggest mistake of his life. From the references, you do get a strong sense of who he is as a person.

"There is no aggressiveness, no bravado, no personal feuds, absolutely no suggestion of violent activity. None of this excuses what he did.

"It is surprising and complex that he has ended up in this position before the court now. Mr Bennett knows he only has himself to blame.

"Having lived and worked for many years on the edges of this kind of activity, he got tempted into it during these weeks in lockdown. He has spent years since then regretting what he did.

"He knows he will have to spend several more years thinking about that and wondering how he will put his life back together on release. He does not expect sympathy or ask for any, but it nonetheless is an immensely sad case."

McQuade meanwhile has three previous convictions, including for assault occasioning actual bodily harm in 2004 and inflicting grievous bodily harm in 2013. David Birrell, appearing on his behalf, said: "What the court is really dealing with is an ongoing course of conduct whereby he was providing a service - a pull out service to recover, extricate and hand over drugs that were imported into the docks.

"This defendant was not the only man working at the docks who was involved in this. There is evidence of others doing more or less the same thing.

"At the time, he was gambling. He had a problem.

"He was also drinking to excess. That explains why a man such as him, with his background, would involve himself in something like this.

"He has never been to custody. He served in the armed forces. He was in the Royal Artillery regiment.

"He joined when he was 17 and served for two years. Then, he entered the world of work as a mechanic.

"He then worked as a printer before working on the docks. He is a dedicated father to his two children.

"Tragically in 2011, when the children were just six and four, their mother and his partner died of breast cancer. The defendant was still a young man.

"To his credit, he raised his children alone with the assistance of other family. He did a good job of it.

"In addition, he has done some fundraising work with a local charity called Flame Spirit. He is making the most of his time in custody and he hopes to get back into work on release."

Bennett admitted two counts of fraudulently evading the prohibition on the importation of cocaine. McQuade pleaded guilty to fraudulently evading the prohibition on the importation of cocaine, conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to possess criminal property.

Judge Anil Murray will pass sentence on Wednesday next week. He told Bennett and McQuade on Thursday afternoon: "Each of you knows you are facing a long period in prison, but I will contemplate the length before then."

Bennett and McQuade were remanded into custody until this date. Appearing suited in the dock, they waved to family members in the public gallery as they were led down to the cells.

Campbell, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and three counts of money laundering and was jailed for 17 years in December. Thirty-one-year-old Scott, of Kirkstone Road West in Litherland, admitted money laundering and was locked up for two years and four months.

Murphy is due to appear before the same court for sentencing this morning, Friday. The 41-year-old - of Wentworth Crescent in Braintree, Essex - admitted assisting in the fraudulent evasion on the prohibition on the importation of cocaine during an earlier hearing.

Don't miss the biggest and breaking stories by signing up to the Echo Daily newsletter here