‘Untouchable’ crime boss Thomas ‘The Bomber’ Kavanagh and associates who smuggled £30m of drugs to UK jailed

The drug lord and two associates were caught following a six-year-long investigation by police

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An “untouchable” Irish drug lord and two associates have been jailed after smuggling around £30 million worth of drugs into the UK.

54-year-old Thomas Kavanagh - known by his nickname ‘The Bomber’ - and his two cronies Gary Vickery, 39, and Daniel Canning, 43, were busted following a six-year-long investigation by police.

Kavanagh, Vickery and Canning are said to have been “key significant players” in the Kinahan Cartel, a notorious Irish organised crime group, and ran the groups UK operations.

Now the trio have been locked up in jail in the UK for their crimes, for various sentence lengths between 19 and 21 years.

The sentencings come after a six-year investigation which was dubbed Operation Hornstay.

Thomas Kavanagh, Gary Vickery and Daniel Canning were all jailed on drug charges after being caught trying to smuggle £30 million worth of drugs in the UK. (Credit: SWNS)Thomas Kavanagh, Gary Vickery and Daniel Canning were all jailed on drug charges after being caught trying to smuggle £30 million worth of drugs in the UK. (Credit: SWNS)
Thomas Kavanagh, Gary Vickery and Daniel Canning were all jailed on drug charges after being caught trying to smuggle £30 million worth of drugs in the UK. (Credit: SWNS)

Irish police raised the alarm

Operation Hornstay was launched after Irish police flagged up several freight and logistics firms based in the Midlands.

Garda officers believed that these businesses were involved with suspects Vickery and Canning, and involved with the shipment of drugs and weapons.

A man named Martin Byrne was also linked to the investigation however Byrne died of cancer while on bail.

UK police officer intercepted a shipment at the Port of Dover in October, finding 15kg of cocaine and 220kg of cannabis concealed inside industrial tarmac.

Further industrial units in Wolverhampton and Wednesbury were also raided and linked to the three men, with 125kg of folic acid powder - a common substance used to cut cocaine - a cash counter, £43,000 and €200,000 later found at Vickery’s rental property.

Vickery, Canning and Byrne were arrested and after phone and encryption devices were serized, Kavanagh was identified as “the gaffa”.

Messages showed that Kavanagh has arranged to orchestrate shipments with criminals across Europe.

Matt Horne, National Crime Agency deputy director of investigations, said: “Our analysis of communications between the group showed they had been involved in a number of previous drug imports in 2017, bringing the estimated street value of the cocaine imported to £23.4 million and £6.4 million in Cannabis.

“So our analysis is that this crime group has imported £30 million worth of drugs into the UK.”

Police raid Kavanagh’s ‘fortress’

Kavanagh was arrested at Birmingham Airport shortly before a police raid on his Tamworth mansion in January 2019.

The property, which had been reinforced with bulletproof windows and heavy doors, was found to house an arsenal of weapons including knives, baseball bats and swords.

Officers also found bundles of around £35,000 in drawers, bags and down the back of Kavanagh’s sofa. An illegal stun gun was also found.

The money found was in several different currencies, including US dollars, euros and pound sterling.

Trio plead guilty to drug offences

Kavanagh, Vickery and Canning all pleaded guilty to the offences, however due to Covid-19 and Vickery’s extradition from Lanzarote, their sentencing was delayed.

After pleading guilty in July 2020, the three men were jailed in March 2022 for a combined sentence of more than 60 years.

Kavanagh was sentenced to 21 years, while Vickery was given a 20 year sentence and Canning a 19 and a half year sentence.

Mr Horne said: “These convictions mark the culmination of a complex, meticulous and detailed six year investigation.

“Their organisation was able to organise, import and distribute drugs worth many millions of pounds into the UK.

“Through their connections overseas and their transport infrastructure they were able to import drugs into the UK again and again on an industrial scale.”

He added: “We have started a proceeds of crime investigation into Kavanagh and his associates with a view of stripping them of any assets that they have acquired through this criminality.

“This is definitely not the end of national crime agency activity against this crime group and its associates.”

Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor at the CPS Kate Anderson said: “This organised crime group imported millions of pounds worth of dangerous drugs into the country, concealing them in machinery in a bid to evade detection.

“They showed no regard for the communities they were putting at risk and pleaded guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence showing their part in this illicit operation.

“Cases like this demonstrate our commitment to disrupting organised criminal activity - and ensuring they face justice.”

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