Gary Pattison cocaine trial: He thought Valentine's Day was the perfect cover for operation
HE USED the cover of the most romantic day of the year to smuggle the biggest shipment of drugs into the city.
Today, Gary Pattison's business empire lies in tatters after he used his cloak of respectability to mask his involvement in the operation to smuggle £23.5 million of drugs through Hull's docks.
Hidden in boxes of yellow chrysanthemums, under deliveries of roses, tulips and carnations destined for Valentine's Day bouquets, was 84kg of cocaine.
Now, self-made millionaire Pattison is beginning an 18-year jail sentence, with his business empire and his life in ruins.
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Gerry Smyth, regional head of investigations for the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said: "Pattison acted as a shipping agent for organised crime groups by arranging for a large quantity of high-purity cocaine to be smuggled into the country.
"Anyone who assists criminals in this way is a target for SOCA. If you come on to our radar, we will pursue you relentlessly, track you down, and put you behind bars.
"Not only has Pattison lost his freedom, he now faces being stripped of his illicit profits."
Pattison had taken over his family's fourth-generation fruit and vegetable business in 1974 and built it up from a market stall in the city to a shop in Bransholme before diversifying into flowers.
By the late 1990s, he had started a property business, renovating and renting out homes in the city and had set up a haulage firm in Thomas Street, Hull.
Pattison had a property portfolio of ten businesses and homes across Hull worth £1.64 million, including the property rented out to the Milk Shack in Newland Avenue.
At the time of his arrest, the three businesses were generating an income of £2 million a year – but it was £500,000 less than they had been making for him.
His haulage business had haemorrhaged £1 million over seven years and the profit from his other companies was struggling to keep it afloat.
In desperation, Pattison turned to drug smuggling for its substantial financial reward.
Since his arrest, Pattison has closed the family florist business.
His partner Lindsay Manson claimed the pair rarely went out and denied they led a lavish lifestyle, despite the court hearing they took two holidays a year to Disneyland and Tenerife and that £50,000 in cash was discovered in their home.
The £300,000 luxury property in Ferry Lane, Woodmansey, complete with paddocks, its own bar and gym, is now at the centre of a proceeds of crime hearing.
Pattison started making trips to Holland 17 years ago to bring blooms back to Bransholme.
He created a haulage business to save money on the trips and, as it grew to the 12 trucks he has today, Pattison was still the only person who ever made the fortnightly trip to Holland despite having a large number of employees and the stress of running three businesses.
In February, he made an extra trip under the pretence of needing more bouquets and flowers for Valentine's Day in the hope he would not attract suspicion.
Pattison took the P&O Ferry to Rotterdam and travelled to the world's largest flower market in Aalsmeer, Holland, to buy flowers on February 8.
But, as he disembarked in Hull on February 10, port officials pulled him over as he drove through King George Dock, stopping his truck and unloading the flowers.
They noticed that three of the boxes were a lot heavier than the rest.
Three of the 17 flower boxes in his truck contained cocaine packed around chrysanthemums. The boxes were six times heavier than ordinary flower boxes, weighing 30kg compared with the other flower boxes weighing between 5kg to 8kg.
On his arrest, Mr Pattison told officers: "You will be surprised how heavy flowers are."
Pattison claimed he had no knowledge of the drugs but his fingerprints were found on the outside of two of the boxes.
He even tried to convince the jury his fingerprints were there because he had helped a female customs officer unload them due to their weight.
He told port officials he had no knowledge of the drugs and denied a charge of illegally importing Class A drugs into the UK.
Detectives also found £4,673 in euros at his home, including nine 500 euro notes, which have been withdrawn from circulation in the UK due to their link to crime.
They also found more than £40,000 in sterling.
Recorder Martin Simpson told Pattison: "You have no previous convictions and throughout your life, you have supported your family and extended family.
"You have been involved in the family business since you left school, carrying on the family florist and greengrocer business, and you developed a property firm and a haulage business.
"Others have spoken well about your previous good character. Now you have been convicted by a jury of importing £84kg of cocaine.
"The view I take is that you played a significant role involving such a large amount of drugs, which the jury found you were well aware of. The least sentence I can pass is 18 years."