LONDON - Six semi-professional footballers who ran an industrial scale cocaine empire worth £260 million have been jailed for a total of 104 years.

Police stopped Luke Skeete, 26, as he drove a small panel van packed with eight kilos of Class A drugs, an arrest which brought down their criminal network like a “house of cards”.

A staggering 123kg of cocaine and 224kg of ketamine was then recovered from storage units in Acton and Chiswick, west London.

But detectives believe in just six months Skeete and his gang of once promising players conspired to supply in excess of 2.7 tonnes of high-grade cocaine across the UK using a “sophisticated and professional business model”.

Surveillance footage from a car involved in one deal shows Skeete parking up in his white vehicle and passing over a holdall of drugs in October 2022.

He was arrested in September last year and his mobile phone interrogated by specialists who discovered a secure messaging app linking him to fellow footballers Shaquille Hippolyte-Patrick, 29, Jamarl Joseph, 28, Adam Pepara, 35, Andrew Harewood, 34, and Melchi Emanuel-Williamson, 29.

Officers spent countless hours examining CCTV which captured the dealers coming and going from warehouses with drugs concealed in holdalls and boxes.

At Isleworth Crown Court, Skeete, of Evergreen Drive, West Drayton, and Chesham United forward Hippolyte-Patrick, of Delgarno Gardens, North Kensington, received 13 years and one month and 18 years and nine months respectively for their roles.

Joseph, of Lily Gardens, Wembley, who plays for Slovakian side FK Senica, got 17 years and six months.

Enfield Town centre-half Pepara, of Wharf Lane, Solihull, 24 years; Harrow Borough FC’s Harewood, of Woodhurst Road, North Acton, 16 years and one month; and Margate FC striker Emanuel-Williamson, of Wesley Avenue, North Acton, 14 years.

PC Perry, from the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Crime North, said: “The operation we’ve dismantled here is not some minor undertaking, involving a group of chancers – this is a highly organised criminal group who were supplying drugs on an industrial scale throughout the UK.

“The sentences received reflect the gravity of what they had been doing.

“This is a criminal group who had otherwise promising careers - semi-pro footballers with other jobs and courses they were undertaking - but they were motivated by making money from drugs that fuel misery and violence on our streets.

“Anyone else wondering if they can make cash from this type of activity should take a look at these sentences and think again, because it’s only a matter of time before you are caught.”

Detective Constable Janes, who also worked on the case, added: “With Skeete’s arrest we brought this house of cards down.

“After he was detained we secured valuable evidence on his mobile phone, helping us launch another investigation that led to us identifying his conspirators.

“Forensic examination of that device and invaluable CCTV evidence helped us compile a case so compelling that none of them had any choice but to plead guilty.”