The wife of an imprisoned drug smuggler and three others have been jailed for their involvement in a plot to smuggle more than a tonne of cocaine into the UK on a yacht.

Makayabella smuggling group jailed

David Webster, Dawne Powell, James Hill and Philip McElhone

The conspiracy centred on the yacht Makayabella, which was intercepted by the Irish Navy of the south-west coast of Ireland in September 2014.

Cocaine found on board would have had a likely street value in excess of £160million, had it been cut and sold in the UK.

Leeds Crown Court heard how Dawne Powell, 56, played a crucial role in the purchase and insuring of the vessel, paying for flights for the crew and a satellite phone.

The yacht, skippered by her father-in-law John Powell, was tracked as it crossed the Atlantic from the Caribbean in an operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), French, Irish and Venezuelan authorities, the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC-N) in Lisbon.

The boat was due to transfer its illicit cargo to a powerboat, the Sea Breeze, skippered by Stephen Powell, Dawne Powell’s husband, and crewed by Philip McElhone, 30, and David Webster, 44.

However, the plan hit the rocks when the Sea Breeze ran out of fuel on the way to the rendezvous. It was rescued by the RNLI and towed to Rosslare in Ireland before returning to Pwllheli, north Wales.

Mrs Powell was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of money laundering following a week-long trial. She was cleared of conspiring to import class A drugs.

Co-defendant James Hill, 31, who had assisted her husband, was sentenced to six years after being found guilty of conspiring to import class A drugs.

McElhone and Webster both pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and were given sentences of 11 years each.

David Norris, NCA branch commander, said: ‘We have successfully dismantled an organised crime group intent on flooding the north of England with illegal drugs.

‘This was a colossal seizure, and I’ve no doubt that had it not been stopped the cocaine on board the Makayabella would have ended up on our streets.

‘Dawne Powell has been found guilty of laundering money which was used in the purchase of the vessel. This enabled the conspiracy which Hill, McElhone and Webster played important roles in.

‘This investigation has relied upon international co-operation to bring it to a successful conclusion, and we will continue to work with our partners at home and abroad to disrupt and bring to justice those involved in drug trafficking.’

The convictions mean eight people are now behind bars in connection with the Makayabella smuggling attempt.

Stephen Powell was jailed for 16 years in December 2014 for orchestrating the smuggling attempt. He initially disappeared, but following publicity about the seizure and an NCA raid on his home in Guiseley he handed himself in.

Stephen Powell

Stephen Powell

The three men who were on the boat when it was stopped, Stephen Powell’s father John, from Silesden, West Yorkshire, Benjamin Mellor from Bradford and Thomas Britteon from Grimsby were handed sentences of between 10 and eight years after being arrested by An Garda Síochána and prosecuted by the Irish authorities.

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Specialist Crown Prosecutor Tarryn McCaffrey said: ‘When the Makayabella was seized by the authorities, it contained over a tonne of cocaine being transported from Venezuela. Dawne Powell and James Hill may not have sailed either of the boats used to import the drugs, but the scheme could not have been run without their involvement.

‘The street value of these drugs would have been £164 million had this massive shipment reached the intended destination, it is vital this type of organised crime continues to be disrupted and offenders brought to justice.’