British ‘babysitter’ for $27 million meth stash in Auckland jailed for just over 17 years

A British man who moved into an inner-city Auckland apartment as a “babysitter” for a large methamphetamine stash, worth about $27 million, has been jailed.

Neil John Wilkinson was sentenced to 17 years and six months this morning, in the High Court at Auckland by Justice Paul Davison.

Wilkinson had been arrested as part of a major drug investigation by the National Organised Crime Group, dubbed Operation Essex.

In November, a jury found him guilty of one charge of possession of methamphetamine for supply.

In July, 2019, police searched an apartment, finding 193kg of the drug packaged up in boxes in a wardrobe.

Wilkinson had moved in that same month to “safeguard” the illicit haul for a drug syndicate, Justice Davison said.

He had arrived in New Zealand just weeks earlier, telling Customs he was visiting on holiday.

Crown prosecutor Kirsten Lummis said he was motivated by the prospect of financial gain.

“Mr Wilkinson has travelled here specifically for the purposes of becoming involved in a drug operation.”

Defence lawyer Annabel Ives said he had travelled here at the behest of others, playing a very minor role in the scheme.

She said her client had been described at trial by the Crown as a “babysitter” or guardian or caretaker for the drugs.

Ives said Wilkinson was “very well regarded” by family and friends.

They would describe the offending as “very much out of character” and are all a bit bewildered at how he has ended up in prison on the other side of the world.

Justice Davison said he rejected Wilkinson’s claim that he had not known what was in the boxes, as the jury’s finding showed they believed he was at least reckless.

The High Court judge said while the estimated cost of the social harm to the country was nearly $240m, the human cost caused was “immeasurable”.

He called it a “pernicious and highly addictive” substance.

Justice Davison took into account the 62-year-old’s prior clean record, as the offending appeared to be an “aberration”.

Wilkinson was sentenced to 17 years and six months, with a non-parole period of seven years.

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