A HAULAGE firm boss who was arrested after 39 dead bodies were discovered in a lorry has admitted drug trafficking offences.

Thomas Maher, from Woolston, was held on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in October last year in connection with the deaths of the Vietnamese nationals.

They were found dead inside a HGV in Grays, Essex, and were aged as young as 15.

Officers executed a search warrant at the 39-year-old’s home on Wiltshire Close in connection with the investigation – with two Range Rovers, a Chevrolet spots car and a motorbike seized.

Warrington Guardian:

Maher was later released without charge in connection with Essex Police’s probe.

But he was charged with a series of offences – including two counts of conspiracy to import class A drugs and two counts of conspiracy to launder money – earlier this year.

Appearing before Liverpool Crown Court this morning, Friday, the Irish national admitted these offences.

Maher coordinated a transport network to facilitate the movement of illegal commodities across borders throughout Europe.

This included the importing of drugs into the UK via Ireland, and the transportation of €900,000 of ill-gotten cash from Ireland to the Netherlands.

He was detained for a second time in June after the National Crime Agency cracked the EncroChat platform criminal gangs internationally have used to communicate in secret as part of Operation Venetic.

NCA deputy director Craig Naylor said: “Maher was the logistics man for a number of crime groups, and played a key role in an important criminal infrastructure.

“He was able to use his contacts and his business to facilitate large amounts of class A drugs to enter the UK and Ireland, with little thought to the damage they inflict on people and communities.

“Going the other way, he was able to ship large amounts of cash after taking a cut himself – which no doubt was used to fund further criminal activity.

Warrington Guardian:

“Put simply, organised crime groups can’t function without people like Maher.

“Operation Venetic has halted thousands of criminal conspiracies and led to the arrests of hundreds of suspects.

“Thomas Maher was undoubtedly one of the most significant.”

The defendant pleaded not guilty to a further charge of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm, with this count to be left to lie on the file.

Maher – the director of Thomas Maher Transport Ltd and Fearnhead salon New Hair Don't Care – has been remanded into custody ahead of his sentencing in December.

It is believed that his case will be one of the first in the UK related to EncroChat to be sentenced.

The NCA monitored his movements over a seven-month period, during which he was seen meeting with associaties at hotels and in public spaces across the north west.

Warrington Guardian:

In April, Maher orchestrated the collection and delivery of at least 21kg of cocaine from Holland to the Republic of Ireland.

Assistant commissioner John O'Driscoll, the Garda Síochána’s head of organised and serious crime, added: “The Garda Síochána and the UK's National Crime Agency have developed a very productive working relationship, resulting in communities in the United Kingdom and Ireland being better protected.

“The combined investigative power of such collaboration undertaken at an international level, prevents those involved in organised and serious crime from exploiting international borders in an attempt to avoid prosecution.”