Suffolk suspect’s 12 years on the run following £500million drugs swoop
09:00 02 February 2016
A Suffolk boatbuilder suspected of aiding an alleged £546million drug smuggling operation has been one of UK customs’ ‘most wanted’ since 2004.
Fugitive Richard Neil Davison has been able to keep one step ahead of the law enforcement agencies for 12 years.
Although he was arrested on March 25, 2004, during a large-scale swoop by customs officers in Spain, Davison has never stood trial.
While on remand after his arrest, Davison was held in a prison near Malaga.
Given bail by a Spanish court after his arrest, he then went on the run.
Davison, who was known as Neil Davison and is now 60 years old, was eventually recaptured in February 2008.
However, he was given bail in Spain for a second time, only to flee again. Davison has been a wanted man ever since.
At one stage he was suspected of having fled to South America.
HM Revenue and Customs has confirmed Davison, who was a director of Crompton Marine (UK) Ltd in Lowestoft, is currently still being sought.
In the years leading up to 2004, the nature of drug trafficking between Spain and Morocco, known as the ‘hashish gateway’ had changed.
It led to different types of high-speed boats being used to outrun the Spanish authorities.
That is where Davison is alleged to have come in. Crompton Marine produced powerful, fast, rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs).
Over the years he was alleged to have established contacts with the criminal underworld in southern Spain.
It was his alleged involvement in the transportation operation for international drug smuggling cartels which lead to his arrest.
The gangs had been looking for better ways of eluding the authorities trying to thwart their drug smuggling activities. In the 14 months before Davison’s arrest virtually all the boats seized in drug trafficking swoops had been made and sold by Crompton Marine.
From 2002 until the time Davison was arrested, around 100 boats were seized in southern Spain, the authorities said.
Customs sources said there were also other vessels corralled on the Andalucian and Alicante coast in the eastern Mediterranean.
An intelligence-led operation by the Spanish saw Davison taken into custody.
Apart from the Suffolk businessman’s arrest, 16 others involved in the trafficking operation were held as 70 Spanish officers carried out raids to round up the suspects.
Davison was apprehended as he came out of his flat overlooking the beach at Estepona on the Costa del Sol, east of Gibraltar.
He had settled in the area several years before. It was one of at least 10 properties the Lowestoft man had in eastern Spain.
Some of these were used as investment properties rented out to holidaymakers, the remainder were for use by Davison and his friends.
In addition to his arrest, Spanish customs also seized the equivalent of more than £600,000 in cash at the Estepona property.
They found around £1million in Euros in boxes inside his apartment. It transpired through checks the money related to boat sales by Crompton Marine.
After officers from Ipswich raided Davison’s partner’s house in Lowestoft they found more than £1.25m in cash, including £250,000 stuffed in a holdall under the stairs.
Davison is believed to have taken more than 150 RHIBS over to Spain, before selling each of them for an average of 60,000 euros. Although he was not accused of carrying the drugs on the boats himself, the authorities alleged he knew what they were to be used for.
At the time of Davison’s arrest Chief Amparo Estrada, of Spanish customs, said it was estimated 141 tonnes of cannabis valued at £546m had been moved on Crompton Marine boats.
Customs officers said it had emerged the RHIBS were sold to people who were using false names and addresses.
The destination of the boats were also false.
Davison had previously been stopped at Malaga airport with large quantities of money attached to his body in bags, on at least two occasions prior to his arrest.
Sources have said on the first occasion in April 2003, Davison had 24,000 euros on him and on the second in October the same year he had 40,000 euros.
As the legal limit to take out of Spain was 6,000 euros at the time the remainder was confiscated and Davison was permitted to go with the maximum amount he was allowed.
Ipswich customs officers then discovered Davison had deposited large sums of money into bank accounts.
He would make cash payments in Spain and get the banks to transfer the money he had been paid for the boats electronically to financial institutions in England.
Just 15 days before Davison’s arrest, officers foiled a plot to smuggle 5,000 kilos of hashish into Spain as it was being transported on one of Crompton Marine boats heading for Barcelona from Tarregona.
The drugs had a street value of somewhere between 1,200-2,000 euros per kilo, depending on their purity. The total amount when converted into Sterling is ranged from £6m to £10m.
Another 1,500 kilos of hash was seized on a beach in Carthegna.
One Spanish customs officer involved in the case said: “This was a very interesting operation. The type of boats used put in danger customs officers out at sea who had to follow these vessels, so it was very important to catch the people responsible.
“This would not have been so easy without help from English customs officers. As we continued to investigate, the money laundering became more and more important as well.
“It was vital to have stopped that 18-metre boat, because nothing could have followed it.”
Anyone with information about Davison’s whereabouts should telephone HM Customs and Revenue hotline on 0800 595000