A NEWPORT hairdresser and a Jamaican were the "key players" behind a cocaine smuggling op-eration which brought £8.5 million of drugs into Gwent.

Pill hairdresser Anthony Chambers and Jamaican Lebert Barrows were jailed for 20 years each after smuggling what is believed to be the biggest cargo of drugs ever seized in Gwent.

The HM Customs and Excise-led Operation Kalouchin also involved Gwent Police and the National Crime Squad.

In June 2003, 15 Gwent police officers armed with MP5 self-loading rifles stormed a warehouse on the Astral business park in Spytty, Newport, and arrested Chambers and Barrows.

The officers also found a massive consignment containing 99.4kg worth £8.5m brought into the city through Newport Docks.

Concealed in a wooden coffin, 100 packages of the powder were among a shipment of timber from Guyana in South America.

Chambers, of Commercial Road, Pill, and Barrows, of St Elizabeth, Jamaica, both aged 38, were sentenced to 20 years in prison last August by Judge Christopher Llewllyn-Jones QC, at Cardiff crown court after being convicted by a jury of importing Class A drugs between September 2002 and June 2003.

Joseph Salmon, 36, of Cefn Road, Newport, Mohammed Shaheen, 51, of Newport Road, Pontypool and Milton Wilson, 35, of Albion Close, Pill, Newport, were all cleared of importing Class A drugs.

Chambers and Barrow's convictions were subject to reporting restrictions until the end of another trial yesterday.

At Cardiff crown court Newport-based businessmen Michael Silcox, 47, of Llanelly Hill, Abergavenny, and Gerald Davies, 57, of Cross Inn, Llantrisant, near Pontypridd, were cleared by unanimous verdicts of the same charges.

During the two-month trial of the haulage contractors from FTS International, based at Newport's Alexandra Dock, the prosecution alleged the drugs were stored there for a week before it was taken to the retail park.

Mr Davies was cleared yesterday morning and Mr Silcox later in the afternoon to loud cheers and tears of joy from his family in the public gallery.

Mr Silcox, originally from Ebbw Vale, said after his acquittal: "I am so relieved that justice has been done.

"Two years of my life and my business have gone. I want to thank my wife, my children, my parents and my friends who have all stuck by me."

Speaking after the trial, customs assistant chief investigator Duncan Stewart, the officer in charge of the case, said: "We are satisfied that the main organisers behind this importation have been convicted and the tough sentences imposed are a stark warning to those who traffic Class A drugs.

"We will continue to target these criminal organisations in order to reduce the availability of these drugs that cause the most harm."

After Mr Silcox and Mr Davies were cleared, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC, said customs "have not had an agreeable Press of late but I have to say that the impression I got was that every single customs officer had the finest attention to detail."

He went on to praise the "strict fairness and impartiality of each one which is a tribute to Customs and Excise".