Engineer smuggled 29kg of cannabis worth £174k from Toronto to London Gatwick to pay off drug debt

By Staff

An engineer who fled the UK after falling into debt with drug dealers agreed to smuggle 29kg of cannabis from Canada so he could come home. Joshua Gough, 30, picked up two suitcases packed with £174,000 worth of the drugs in Toronto – where cannabis has been legal since 2018 – and hopped on a flight to London Gatwick Airport on September 18 last year.

But Border Force officials at the Sussex airport uncovered the stash during routine luggage checks, before putting the cases back into baggage reclaim to see who would pick them up. When Gough collected the drug-filled suitcases and was stopped by officers, he admitted they were his but denied packing them, the Old Bailey heard on Thursday, March 14.

Gough was arrested and searched, but refused to hand over passcodes to his phone and made no comment under questioning. He was charged with the fraudulent evasion of prohibition on the importation of a Class B drug, and pleaded guilty at Croydon Magistrates’ Court on November 7 2023.

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In his basis of plea, he admitted being a heavy cannabis user with a large debt to UK dealers. Gough, a water engineer, claimed he fled to Spain in 2019, under pressure to pay off his debts, and set up a successful business as a maintenance engineer.

On his return to Britain, he said he was approached by the same dealers and they offered him the cross-Atlantic smuggling job to pay off his debts. On Thursday, the prosecution said it accepted Gough was ‘acting under pressure’.

Gough’s defence counsel argued it was ‘an isolated incident’ and her client was a man of good character. “It’s a deep tragedy Mr Gough has found himself in this condition, he has led a productive and law-abiding life. He has a background in in engineering with a solid work history… Unfortunately, he fell into addiction and he also struggled with his mental health,” she added.

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‘I accept you were acting under pressure’

But Judge John Hillen was not moved to suspend the sentence as he listed the dangers of cannabis – which he said include psychosis, lung cancer, and heart disease. Judge Hillen also argued ‘it needs to be known’ that drug smuggling will land people in prison.

“I accept you were acting under pressure to those who you owed money and this was a one-off importation,” Judge Hillen said.

Jailing Gough for 15 months, he added: “Although the length of the sentence is capable of being suspended, appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody.”

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