updated 3/18/2010 3:57:03 PM ET 2010-03-18T19:57:03

A former Scotland Yard drug squad detective was jailed Thursday for his role in a botched attempt to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine into Ireland.

Prosecutors said Michael Daly, 49, was one of the chief organizers of a plot to land some 1.5 metric tons (1.65 U.S. tons) of high-quality cocaine on the coast of southern Ireland, where his family had a home.

Daly and his predominantly London-based gang of cocaine runners arranged for a catamaran full of Colombian cocaine to sail from the Caribbean island of Barbados to a point off the coast of Ireland, where it was picked up by an inflatable dinghy in the early hours of July 2, 2007.

But the plan fell apart after a member of the crew accidentally filled the dinghy's twin engines with diesel instead of gasoline, stranding them in unusually rough seas just a few hundred yards (meters) from shore.

Foiled by the weather
An attempt by Daly to rescue the drugs in a second boat failed amid darkness and nasty weather, and the crew abandoned ship, with most of them — including Daly; his younger brother Joe; and Alan Wells, a former firefighter — managing to swim ashore.

The former detective managed to dodge the authorities and escape from Ireland on a fake passport, but his brother and fellow gang member Perry Wharrie were arrested by Irish police 48 hours later. Wells also managed to escape.

Co-conspirator Martin Wanden was fished out of the sea later that morning, clinging to a bale of cocaine.

Authorities retrieved what British police estimated at 200 million pounds ($300 million) worth of the drug from the water, something prosecutor Mark Gadsden described as the largest single cocaine seizure in Britain and Ireland.

Wells managed to evade authorities for about three weeks but was eventually arrested at his home in southern England. Daly was caught in southern England later that year while trying to import cocaine and amphetamines from France.

Both Daly and Wells pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply cocaine and were sentenced to 22 years and 15 years in prison respectively at Blackfriars Crown Court in central London on Thursday.

Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector Grant Johnson described Michael Daly as a ringleader who "clearly abused the knowledge and skills he gained as a police officer for criminal gain."

‘You betrayed your colleagues’
Daly's lawyer, Malcolm Swift, said the detective left Scotland Yard in the 1990s after an incident where he was found drunk and disorderly. He argued that his client became embroiled in the plot because he owed one of the conspirators money.

But the judge, Henry Blacksell, dismissed the argument.

"I'm not impressed at all about the debt aspect, if there's any truth in that," he told Daly. "You betrayed your colleagues."

Daly is already serving an eight-year sentence in connection with his arrest in southern England. The 22-year sentence will run concurrently.

The four gang members arrested in Ireland received sentences of between 10 and 30 years in jail in 2008.

Two other Britons suspected of involvement in the operation have been arrested in Spain on unrelated drugs matters. Police say they're still hunting for two more suspects in connection with the crime.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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