A clean-nosed dad-of-six turned to transporting cocaine and cash across the country in a Thames Water-livered van after falling on hard times during lockdown.

Christopher Wood, 35, handled an estimated 23kgs of cocaine, received £449,000 cash and delivered £308,000 after being recruited into the conspiracy run by gangsters Luke Andrews and Andrew McMahon in early 2020, Oxford Crown Court heard.

He was given a heavily-encrypted EncroChat phone with the username ‘BasilBanana’, which he used to take instructions from his bosses and send back status reports, prosecutor Walton Hornsby told the crown court on Friday.

As well as making deliveries in a top-of-the range Audi, the former Thames Water contractor bought a van, to which he fitted the water board’s livery to make it easier for him to get around. Wood, using the BasilBanana EncroChat phone, sent back photographs of himself in the company’s uniform.

Oxford Mail: Christopher Wood sent this picture of him wearing Thames Water uniform to his organised crime bosses via an encrypted EncroChat phone Picture: TVPChristopher Wood sent this picture of him wearing Thames Water uniform to his organised crime bosses via an encrypted EncroChat phone Picture: TVP

The court heard he turned to the trade after falling on hard times in early 2020. He had lost his job and a business he subsequently established was failing during lockdown.

Wood was paid a ‘golden hello’ of £1,000 by the gang then promised a salary of £2,500-a-month for his part in the nationwide cocaine business.

But his barrister, David Wood, said the dad-of-six rarely received his promised salary – and his involvement in the conspiracy only lasted three months before the EncroChat network was busted by European police, gang leaders Andrews and McMahon fled the country and Wood was arrested. Andrews and McMahon remain at large, the court heard.

Honest Wood told the detectives who interviewed him: “I never owned the drugs or the money. I did it of my own free will when I was struggling financially due to lack of work and supporting six children. I am very sorry for my actions.”

Wood, of East Hanney, near Wantage, pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity to conspiracy to supply class A drugs. He had no previous convictions or cautions.

Sentencing him to five years’ imprisonment on Friday, Judge Nigel Daly recognised the fact Wood was ‘extremely’ remorseful and that a sentence of immediate custody would have a devastating impact on the defendant’s wife and the five children living with them at home.

He said: “You will, of course, have to live with what you have done to your family. I accept you did this in order to get money to support your family at a time when you found yourself in financial difficulties.

“But the fact of the matter is the supply of this kind of drug cannot be overlooked.”

Judge Daly added: “You stored and you arranged the distribution of a significant quantity of cocaine. The conspiracy involved 25kgs of this pernicious drug.”

Earlier, Mr Wood made a ‘straightforward plea for mercy’ on behalf of his client, who recognised that he faced an immediate prison sentence.

Read more from this author

This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward