A GWENT man cleared by a jury of smuggling drugs from Spain to South Wales hidden in a concrete block has spoken of his relief at being acquitted.

Roy Matthews, 35, from Fleur-de-Lys, Blackwood, was cleared by a jury at Newport crown court yesterday of smuggling 20kg of cannabis resin with a street value of between £14,000 and £20,000 into the UK.

Mr Matthews and John Holt, 65, of Richeson Walk, Henbury, Bristol, were both cleared by unanimous verdicts of fraudulently importing a controlled class B drug in August 2003.

Cannabis has since been re-designated as a class C drug. After the verdicts, Mr Matthews said outside the court: "I'm just relieved and glad it's all over. My wife, who has just had our four-month-old baby girl, was too nervous to come today.

"It was like a big and dark cloud over me. My stomach sank to my feet when I was told I was being arrested over drugs.

"My life was in limbo for the past two years.

"Every job interview I have been to, I've had to explain that I've got a court case pending.

"If I had been found guilty, I was looking at anything between 18 months and three years in prison."

The court heard how a consignment of drugs was seized from a lorry by customs and excise officers at Portsmouth harbour after a ferry had docked from Bilbao.

As the concrete slab was being X-rayed, officials noticed something inside and after drilling through it, discovered drugs.

Inside were 20 brown taped packages, each containing roughly 1kg of cannabis.

The concrete slab was addressed to R Matthews, Barn Hill Industrial Estate, Waunborfa Road, Blackwood.

Mr Holt was accused of arranging for the package to be shipped on a ferry from Bilboa to the UK.

Mr Matthews claimed he agreed to receive the package for a friend he met when he had spent several months in Spain and denied any knowledge of drugs.

He told the Argus: "I was just doing it as a favour for a friend I met while on holiday in Spain.

"I have never been involved with drugs.

"When the jury acquitted Mr Holt, I thought I was going to be found guilty. "Good luck to Mr Holt and I'm glad for him.

"I had never met him before I saw him in Cardiff crown court. "I'll be celebrating tonight and there will be a couple of bottles of champagne for the defence."