UK

Career criminal jailed over transportation of cocaine and cash across Europe

Paul O’Brien transported drugs and cash across Europe (NCA/PA)
Paul O’Brien transported drugs and cash across Europe (NCA/PA) Paul O’Brien transported drugs and cash across Europe (NCA/PA)

A career criminal who transported drugs and cash across Europe has been jailed for 21 years.

Paul O’Brien, 56, from Uxbridge, west London, arranged for the transportation of cocaine and 900,000 euros in cash from the Netherlands to the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Working alongside Irishman Thomas Maher, 40, he used encrypted phone network Encrochat – which was accessed by law enforcement agencies across Europe earlier this year – to plan the transportation.

Wealthy haulage boss Maher was jailed for 14 years and eight months in 2020.

Thomas Maher court case
Thomas Maher court case Haulage boss Thomas Maher was jailed in 2020 (NCA/PA)

Conversations between the pair showed that in April 2020, an HGV and a car met near the village of Uddel in the Netherlands and exchanged the drugs – which could have been worth up to £1 million if sold in the UK, the NCA said.

Maher organised for 300,000 euros, belonging to O’Brien, to be collected near Louth in Ireland and transported to the Netherlands by car before a second pick-up of 600,000 euros was arranged by Maher for O’Brien, again to be taken by couriers from Ireland to the Netherlands.

The exchange took place at a bus station in Drogheda before Garda officers conducting a surveillance operation moved in to intercept the cash and arrest couriers Jason Reed, 42, Thomas Rooney, 53, and Catherine Dawson, 46, the NCA said.

O’Brien was identified as the ‘ONEDIAMONDGEE’ user after his EncroChat device was seized when he was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers at his Uxbridge home.

He subsequently pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad, and at Isleworth Crown Court a judge sentenced him to 21 years imprisonment, the NCA said.

Paul O’Brien
Paul O’Brien O’Brien has been jailed for 21 years (NCA/PA)

Martin Clarke, senior investigating officer at the National Crime Agency, said: “O’Brien is an established organised crime figure, as shown by his ability to join forces with a hugely influential drug trafficker like Thomas Maher. Together, they moved cocaine and hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash across Europe.

“The crucial evidence obtained from his EncroChat handset laid bare O’Brien’s trafficking operation, leaving him with no option but to plead guilty.”

The NCA said Maher came onto their radar during the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in a lorry in Purfleet in October 2019.

The tractor unit involved was previously owned by Maher, and was still registered in his wife’s name after it was sold.

In May 2023, he was ordered to pay back more than £630,000 in criminal profits following a financial investigation by the NCA.