A FORMER escort who tried to run an international drugs syndicate from her Wiltshire council house has been jailed for almost six-and-a-half years.
Paola Morrish, 42, arranged for four shipments of crystal meth to be trafficked to the UK from Mexico, using contacts made from her time as an escort.
Her husband David, a self-employed removals man, admitted binning a box he feared contained drugs. He was given a nine month suspended sentence.
Swindon Crown Court heard Paola Morrish’s smuggling ring was unmasked in early 2019 when Border Force officers at Stanstead Airport intercepted a parcel of more than 430 wrestler dolls sent from Guadalajara, Mexico, to a house in Chippenham. Hidden inside the dolls was 7.4kg of crystal meth with police putting the street value of the drugs as high as £1m.
Prosecutor Tessa Hingston said analysis of Paola Morrish’s phones showed she had been in contact with contacts in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and the UK.
The messages made frequent reference to cocaine. The first mention of crystal meth came on November 7 when a contact named in court as Paolo Matos told her to ask her friends in Mexico if they have any “Tina” – slang for methamphetamine.
“I could get 10 to 20 per month easy if they can do good price,” he texted.
Morrish texted another contact, Alejandro, asking him to “fix the banquet”. He replied: “Okay, okay.”
A package of 400 Mexican wrestler dolls sent from Guadalajara, Mexico, was seized by Border Force officers at Stanstead Airport, Essex, on January 25.
When the figurines were sliced open they were found to contain class A drug methamphetamine – better known as crystal meth, the substance made famous by TV blockbuster Breaking Bad.
Police repackaged the parcels and tracked it to a house on Park Avenue, Chippenham, listed on the delivery label. Detectives watched as Paola Morrish stopped at the house and retrieved the package.
She returned to the Malmesbury home she shared with her husband David and son. When police raided the house and found the dolls in the hallway. Admissions by the woman led police to a bag of coffee containing crystal meth disguised as beans. The bag was part of a parcel of 21
Interviewed by police, she attempted to persuade officers she had been acting as a courier.
She claimed she had received a total of four packages and had grown increasingly suspicious that the parcels she was being sent contained drugs. She was due to take the parcel to London the day after police swooped, having been offered an extra £1,500 by her contact in the capital as she said the parcel was larger than she initially thought.
But prosecutors said the picture painted by Morrish of a woman acting simply as a courier was undermined by the messages on her phone.
Ms Hingston said: “Mrs Morrish doesn’t come across as naïve, scared, stupid or brainwashed all of those terms being words which she used during her interview.
“She used confusion as an excuse whenever the questioning became too intense.”
In messages on her phone she asked contacts to use a heavily encrypted chat app “for security reasons”. She had arranged for drivers transport and protect the illicit product, Ms Hingston said.
Analysis of an HSBC bank account linked to Morrish showed around £17,500 had been paid in over just two days. £16,642.98 was paid out to another account within five days.
She boasted to her husband of making thousands of pounds a week and being able to buy their house within a year.
Paola Morrish, of Carnival Close, Malmesbury, pleaded guilty last year to being concerned in the fraudulent evasion of a prohibition on the importation of a class A drug between October 2018 and February 2019.
Her husband, David, 49, of the same address, admitted assisting an offender. In the wake of his arrest he had found a parcel in the house he shared with wife Paola and, fearing it might have contained drugs, had binned it. Police had brought the charge after making a recording of a visit the man made to his wife in prison.
Michael Hall, for Paola Morrish, said his client had suffered from endometriosis and developed an addiction to opioid painkillers. Having exhausted efforts to obtain the drugs on prescription in the UK she tapped up contacts overseas to try and get the medication on the black market.
Unable to work and with her thinking obscured by pain, she attempted to import the crystal meth in order to make some extra cash.
Mr Hall said Morrish was far from the international drug smuggler of popular imagination. He said: “A couple living in a council house, paying rent and her husband was working as a self-employed removals man. This is not the world of international drug dealing.”
The barrister added: “The reality on the ground, the hard evidence is she may have had aspirations on any view they were in their infancy, but the reality is she was misguided in the extreme and certainly had delusions of grandeur as to any prospects of success.”
Morrish was remorseful and, since being remanded in custody, had kicked her addiction to painkillers and re-discovered God. Mr Hall said: “She is grateful for her arrest. This has brought to an end an immensely chaotic period in her life and it’s enabled her to stop and stake stock and attempt to move forward.”
Peter Binder, for David Morrish, said his client had led a blameless life. He had keenly felt the impact of his wife’s illness and suffered heart problems himself. “He’s been through hell,” the barrister said.
He ran his own removals business and looked after his 19-year-old stepson. Mr Binder said: “The impact of custody would be profound.”
Judge Jason Taylor QC sentenced on the basis she had imported 10 kilos of crystal meth with an estimated street value of between £437,000 and £582,000.
He described Paola Morrish as quick-witted, canny and manipulative when it suited her.
Jailing her for six years and four months, the judge said: “I find you were an integral part in this chain of supply, adept at facilitating and organising the constituent people and consignments.
“You aspired to and dreamt of ‘large scale imports’ and ‘doing great things’. If this operation hadn’t been caught in its infancy that is the direction it was headed.”
David Morrish received nine months imprisonment suspended for a year-and-a-half. He must complete 250 hours of unpaid work. Judge Taylor said: “I have no doubt you will not come back before the courts again.”
A London-based gang member who was believed to be the intended recipient of the drugs, Paolo Matos, 35, fled his Battersea flat back to Mexico last year. He is wanted by the UK and Italian authorities.
Reacting to the sentence, Det Insp Adrian Hawkins of the SW ROCU said: “The drugs found in the dolls alone had a street value in the region of £1million, depending where they would ultimately be sold. We went on to discover Mrs Morrish had received other parcels, including a shipment of the drug disguised to look like coffee beans. One bag recovered was found to contain nearly 300g of crystal meth. The drug had been formed into coffee bean shapes, dyed brown, and added to regular bags of beans.
“Mrs Morrish, was clearly heavily involved in a potentially lucrative plot to smuggle large amounts of the class A drug into the UK on behalf of a Mexican organised crime group. The work of colleagues at Border Force and our team has ensured their network was disrupted (and the sentences handed down today show that playing any part in such a plot has serious consequences).”