North Devon drug dealer James Fielder jailed for 11 years
A drug dealer has been jailed for 11 years for an "Alice in Wonderland" plot in which he hid thousands of pounds worth of cocaine in a rabbit hole.
James Fielder was the mastermind of a £150,000 conspiracy in which he bought in cocaine in bulk from London and then sold it onto the streets of North Devon.
He fled the country after his arrest in 2010 by handing in an expired passport to police and escaping to Thailand on his real one.
He was jailed after returning earlier this year and being arrested as he stepped onto British soil at Heathrow.
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Fielder was trapped by a major police surveillance operation where officers hid in undergrowth at his Landkey farm and filmed him taking delivery of £10,000 worth of cocaine from his courier.
Phone records and vehicle traces enabled detectives to show he was receiving 15 deliveries over eight months which he bagged up at his smallholding before selling on to street dealers.
The wholesale value of the drugs was around £150,000 but the street value is likely to have been much higher.
The operation was compared to Alice in Wonderland because he hid the cocaine in straw covered rabbit holes at his farm.
When he was caught he tried to flee Britain on an 80 foot luxury yacht called the Misty Moonbeam but was stopped by police at Penzance wet dock as the vessel was being fuelled with enough diesel to get him to the Canaries.
He was given bail again but fled successfully after fobbing off officers with the wrong passport and spent two years in Thailand.
His partner Shirley Ash, aged 53, went with him but returned soon afterwards and was cleared of the same conspiracy by a jury at Exeter in the summer.
Fielder, of Corfe Green House, Braunton, admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine and was jailed for 11 years by Judge Francis Gilbert.
Courier Glen Hilsden, aged 39, from Staines, was jailed for seven years after being found guilty of the same charge in June.
The judge told Fielder: "You were the principal in a cocaine dealing operation in North Devon in which Hilsden brought drugs from up country. You were put under surveillance and in June 2010 police found £10,000 cash in Hilsden's van, apparently payment for the delivery, which you were filmed throwing away, of 233 grams of cocaine.
"A search revealed another 174 grams hidden in the ground which had been brought earlier and was to be bagged up for onward sale. The prosecution say this conspiracy went on for eight months during which you were directing the organisation of the buying and selling and no doubt were expecting significant financial gain."
The judge ordered that an investigation be conducted under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize any assets Fielder may still have in this country.
Jonathan Barnes, prosecuting, said the case arose from a major police inquiry which had already resulted in the jailing of Hilsden.
He said Fielder had attempted to flee the country from Penzance aboard the Misty Moonbeam before succeeding a few days later after handing in the wrong passport to police.
He said Fielder had been at the heart of the cocaine dealing operation and received regular shipments at both his home in Braunton and his smallholding at Steps Ford Farm, Landkey, where he was arrested.
He said: "The surveillance film showed Fielder emerging from his caravan and throwing something away as police ran towards him. It was later recovered from an area of bushes and a stream and found to contain cocaine. A further amount valued at £7,000 to £10,000 was found hidden in a rabbit hole which was covered in straw.
"We say this cocaine, the Alice in Wonderland package, was of a different purity and from a different consignment."
Nicolas Gerasimides, defending, said Fielder had left the country to sort out family problems with his young grandson in Thailand and deserved credit for returning and admitting his part in the conspiracy.
He said the amounts involved did not take it to the highest level of sentencing and said the police surveillance evidence proved 15 contacts with the courier but these had not all involved deliveries.
He said Hilsden was an old friend and the two men shared an interest in motocross, which explained some of his visits to Devon.