A British drug lord has been arrested in Thailand after five years on the run, Thailand police said on Sunday.
A British drug lord from Brentwood, who was on the most wanted list for five years, was arrested in Thailand on Friday after fleeing the country during his trial in 2018. Richard Wakeling, 55, was convicted for attempting to import £8 million of liquid amphetamine into the UK in April 2016, but managed to make it out of the country before he could be jailed and has been living a secret life in a beachside town ever since.
The 55-year-old was given an 11-year sentence in absentia and sent to the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) British “most wanted” watch list.
“Since 1993 he regularly traveled to Thailand but after being charged he changed his name and his passport’s nationality to Irish, that’s why it didn’t show up on the system,” a senior Thai police officer involved with the arrest told AFP.
“We arrested him and asked whether he was Richard as on the warrant, and he confirmed he was,” the officer said.
Wakeling’s organized crime gang was the subject of an inquiry by the National Crime Agency (NCA) after Border Force on April 9, 2016, prevented a truck carrying plastic drums full of cocaine from boarding a train through the Channel Tunnel. A driver was transporting furniture from Italy when Wakeling organized the importation. On the way to Ternat, Belgium, the driver stopped to pick up the drugs.
According to the NCA, Wakeling, who has a prosthetic lower right leg, coordinated the trip with two other UK offenders and spoke with drug suppliers in the Netherlands. Before the 2016 seizure, officers think the criminal organization organized at least six further importations.
He left his Brentwood home in Juniper Court on Beech Avenue on January 5, 2018, in a white Audi Q3, then took a bus from Heathrow to Glasgow, then a boat from Stranraer to Belfast, before his 12-week trial at Chelmsford Crown Court could start.
His car, which he had left in Iver, near Slough, was driven back to his residence a week later. He was then added to the “most wanted” list and given an 11-year prison term when he was not present. Wakeling was last seen on camera in 2019 when the NCA published surveillance footage of him before he ran away, but it would be years before he was located.
The arrest uncovered his secret life using a passport with another identity in the beachside town of Hua Hin. The fugitive was apprehended by Royal Thai Police officials on Friday at a Bangkok garage where he was picking up his vehicle after repairs, according to the NCA. He is still being held, and extradition proceedings are under progress.
Wakeling’s arrest, according to NCA regional manager for Thailand David Coyle, was “another example of an offender being apprehended” by the agency’s “relentless” collaboration with foreign partners. The NCA “has worked tirelessly to trace Wakeling and ensure that he returns to the UK to fulfill his prison sentence,” according to Mr Coyle.
“This is another instance of an offender being captured due to the worldwide reach and solid partnerships with international partners of the NCA,” he continued.
The public’s response to requests for information, according to NCA regional head of investigations Jacque Beer, has aided in locating the fugitive. Wakeling’s arrest, he claimed, “was the result of the NCA undertaking investigations all around the world to capture him. Wakeling has connections to Thailand, Thailand, Canada, Spain, and both Northern and Republic of Ireland.”
The NCA appealed for assistance in locating Wakeling in 2019 and made CCTV footage of him on the run available.
The importation, which was set up by Wakeling, involved a driver transporting furniture from Italy, and stopping in Ternat, Belgium, en route to collect the drugs.
Wakeling had been in contact with drug suppliers in the Netherlands, and liaised with two other UK offenders to arrange the journey, the NCA said.