Operation NIAGARA convictions

News / March 20

Following a three week trial held at Bristol Crown Court the jury yesterday took less than 5hrs to deliver a unanimous guilty verdict against all defendants for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Following a three week trial held at Bristol Crown Court the jury yesterday took less than 5hrs to deliver a unanimous guilty verdict against all defendants for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. 


Today the defendants appeared in custody before HHJ Picton who placed the defendants within the Category 2 sentencing guidelines of 7 – 13yrs. Prior to the trial starting  COWELL entered a late guilty plea for possession of heroin and also possession of 12 rounds of 9mm ammunition which was found during searches at his address.


Jay COWELL received 13yrs 6 months which included 18months for possession of ammunition. He was also convicted of PWITS of Heroin and received a concurrent  sentence of 4yrs 6 months.  POCA proceedings will follow which will strip him of his 2015 Porsche and other ill gotten gains. The judge placed him in a leading role status within the conspiracy. The Crown notified the court that SCPO’s would be applied for against COWELL.


Mark HOWARD received 8yrs and was described by the judge as having a significant role. Of note during the financial investigation additional assets of £35k were identified which are now subject to a restraint and revisit of his earlier confiscation. New POCA proceedings will also follow


Joe WILKINS received 7yrs for his part as the arranger / fixer of the drugs supply conspiracy


Jose Paulo DESOUSA who worked for COWELL received a 4yr sentence .


Judges commendation were awarded to :


Dc Clare Nelson and Dc Haley Matthews as OIC and disclosure roles for presenting a case of the highest order 


Financial investigator Laura Woods for a diligent and far reaching financial investigation into the financial circumstances of all the defendants identifying assets , money trails incomes and expenditure. Her knowledge of POCA was exceptional and throughout supported the case.  


Intelligence Analyst – Emma Brown for her clear presentation of evidence,  phone analysis .


All defendants entered the court on bail and following the guilty verdict were remanded in custody. Jay Cowell repeatedly arrived late for court and on one occasion had the front to park his S3 on double yellows outside the court. Yesterday verdict and remand in custody saw him handing over the keys to allow his car to be moved from the public car park.  All the defendants gave evidence and through skilful cross examination by Ray Tulley saw COWEL making admissions of lying to the Police and their  credibility stripped away and lies and deceit exposed for all to see.


This was a fantastic result and well deserved for the hard work and preparation by all involved. This was never going to be an easy case to win and relied upon a team approach and commitment to present the evidence in a jury friendly format. Throughout the investigation which started in Nov 2015 I had every confidence in the evidence and the capabilities of the team to secure the right result. The prosecution team have worked tirelessly to present this challenging case and to secure convictions on count 1 against all defendants for conspiracy to supply Class A Drugs and not forgetting the PWITS and early guilty pleas for firearms and drug possessions offences is commendable.


This was a case that presented financial evidence of unexplained wealth ,cash rich lifestyle of ownership of high value cars which included a £107k Porsche which was only a month old when seized back in 2015. During the arrest and subsequent searches cash in excess of £70k was seized along with mixing agents, 12 rounds of live 9mm ammunition, dealer lists, high purity Class A drugs (heroin and Cocaine) consistent with dealer samples.    


The financial investigation and analysis disclosed a highly unusual pattern of activity across all of COWELLS various accounts.  In particular, it disclosed exceptionally high levels of cash paid into his bank accounts. Over a 2 year period in excess of £870k of unexplained cash credits were identified and  the net effect was that approx. 79% of all credits to the various bank accounts were made in cash


The case involved the support of the wider Zephyr team from intelligence support , partner agencies, right through to the operational team on the ground which resulted in the initial arrest.


My thanks extent to all involved for the true team Zephyr approach taken which secured the right and just result.


Tony Hubbard

SIO – Op Niagara


I have summarised below a short synopsis of the investigation.


Initial Arrest / Circumstances


The case originated from arrests taken as part of ZN Operational team Op Nettle and ZN operations team which through searches identified unexplained wealth and an Aladdin’s cave of luxury goods and extravagant lifestyle. The arrests and seizures provided all the ingredients of a compelling and interesting money laundering and drugs conspiracy investigation for the CFT to progress


On 11th November 2015 police officers observed two males, Mark HOWARD and Joe WILKINS enter a property at 327 Soundwell Road, Hanham, Bristol. Approximately 40 minutes later, a white Audi R8 supercar arrived and the driver Jay COWELL and passenger Jose DE SOUSA exited the vehicle and entered the address. The vehicle was registered to one of COWELL’s businesses – Prestige Spray UK Ltd, and was worth approximately £70,000. Officers entered the address under s32 PACE and upon entry, officers saw COWELL turn and run into the lounge of the property and throw a bag onto an armchair. The bag contained a large amount of cash in 7 bundles, estimated at £60,000. Also recovered from the Soundwell road address were mixing agents  , drugs supply paraphernalia and controlled drugs. All were arrested


COWELL, HOWARD and WILKINS were all arrested on suspicion of money laundering and conspiracy to supply Class A controlled drugs. DE SOUSA was arrested on suspicion of money laundering.


Whilst being transported to custody e COWELL was seen by officers to be breaking up white powder in his hands. When this was investigated COWELL handed a cling film wrap to police stating “here you go that’s it”. For which he was further arrested. 


The bag COWELL discarded was found to contain cash totalling £60,000. The cling film wrapped around one of the bundles of cash was later found to have a mark identified as that of Mark HOWARD. From this bag were forensically examined and found to be contaminated with cocaine greater than that typically detected on banknotes taken from general circulation.


COWELL’s rented home address 26A Gays Road, Hanham was subsequently searched. This was a very well presented three bedroom detached property which was furnished to a high standard, which he rented alone for £1600 per month and paying in cash. A 65” curved screen TV was seized from the lounge area and top-end appliances were in use.


In the garage were over 100 boxed pairs of trainers. Most of the clothing in the property was designer wear. Items of value include jewellery, two Rolex watches and artwork by Damien Hirst. Receipts and paperwork indicate high value cash purchases, showing cash expenditure totalling almost £30,000 in the two years to November 2015. Artwork, jewellery, electronics and brand new trainers were seized as evidence of money laundering, in addition to the Audi R8.


Several items containing controlled drugs with high purity values were also seized along with just under £9k in cash, 12 live 9mm rounds of ammunition.


Within a few weeks of Zephyr financial taking on the investigation COWELL was further arrested for drugs and money laundering offences linked to his Porsche being subject to a targeted stop. Subsequent searches recovered more high purity drugs, significant quantities of cash and an encrypted black phone. His Porsche which was only a months old and valued at £107k was also seized under new POCA powers.

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