Ex-police chief believes ‘drug lord’ son didn’t ‘grass’ in £120m smuggling plot after upbringing at £45k school

5 August 2023, 14:24 | Updated: 5 August 2023, 14:34

Sue Arnold has admitted her devastation since her son's sentencing.
Sue Arnold has admitted her devastation since her son's sentencing. Picture: Conservative Party/West Midlands Police

By Jenny Medlicott

A former police chief has revealed the ordeal her “drugs kingpin” son has dragged the family through after he was jailed for 23 years in a £120m smuggling operation.

Sue Arnold, 63, says she believes her son's upbringing at the elite £45,000-a-year Repton School, whose alumni include Roald Dahl and Jeremy Clarkson, may have encouraged him not to "grass" during his case as she maintains he's not a "drug lord".

West Midlands Police said Jonathan Arnold, of Sutton Coldfield, was the "ringleader" of a group which brought nearly two tonnes of cocaine, heroin and ketamine into the UK via ports using a furniture removal company as a front.

Arnold admitted in court that he was involved in a conspiracy to supply 1,477kg of cocaine, with an approximate value of £118 million. The drugs were hidden inside pallets of bananas on board of a ship from Colombia.

But Ms Arnold has maintained that while her son may have fallen in with the wrong crowd, he's not a “drugs lord”.

“Some people will just say it's sour grapes and that every mother of a criminal claims her son is innocent,” she told MailOnline.

Ms Arnold has pointed to what she believes to be a number of inconsistencies in the case, including questions about how he could have carried out attacks on his own family and removal firm.

In fact, she believes that the “honour” instilled in her son while he was at Repton School may have stopped him from unmasking the true ring leader - if he knows who it is.

“It definitely wasn't the done thing to 'grass' on another pupil at school, and I think that's part of the reason why Jonathan pleaded guilty yet never informed on anyone else,” she said.

Jonathan’s smuggling operations funded his luxurious lifestyle, which included the purchase of a Ferrari, trips to Dubai, a Rolex and new teeth, police said.

Read more: Ex-police chief complains her son jailed for running £135million cocaine smuggling gang wrongly labelled 'drug lord'

Read more: Teen who vanished for four years then appeared 2,000 miles from home moves to site rife with meth and sex crimes

Sue Arnold has said she believes police have named her son the 'kingpin' because it suits their narrative.
Sue Arnold has said she believes police have named her son the 'kingpin' because it suits their narrative. Picture: Conservative Party

One of the biggest challenges Ms Arnold has faced since her son’s imprisonment is reconciling his criminal behaviour with her former role as the deputy Police and Crime commissioner of Staffordshire.

"The 'drug lord' inference is more evidence that has left my husband and I dumbfounded by the police's wrongful portrayal of our son as the 'kingpin' of the operation, presumably because it suits their narrative to imply they have snared the lead player," she said earlier this week.

“We waited 10 years for a child and had given up hope of ever conceiving. He was precious to us from the moment he was born. We were fortunate that we had both been successful and were able to give him the very best life we could,” she continued.

“We've spent months asking ourselves if we should have done something different, or if Jonathan has been treated more harshly because of my former position.

“While he was privileged, he always had a predisposition to help those less fortunate. He helped at Samiad International school, [a Summer school for overseas children to learn English] teaching rugby to the younger children. He had an awful lot of empathy for these kids who were away from their families.”

Jonathan Arnold was jailed for 23-and-a-half years at Birmingham Crown Court last month.

Jonathan was arrested in March 2022.
Jonathan was arrested in March 2022. Picture: West Midlands Police
Top left: Arnold, right: Fletcher. Bottom left: Jenkins, right: Sadiq.
Top left: Arnold, right: Fletcher. Bottom left: Jenkins, right: Sadiq. Picture: West Midlands Police

Previously, Jonathan joined his father’s nationwide sign-erecting firm for several years, before later setting up an international removals company.

But when the pandemic hit he found himself struggling with the demand of his role.

“He'd be setting off with his team in the early hours on long journeys all over the country and we later discovered he'd been recommended to take [powerful opiate] Tramadol with energy drinks to keep himself going,” Ms Arnold added.

She said her son reached the point where he was taking as many as 20 tablets a day.

While his parents don’t deny his involvement in the world of drugs, it’s his label as “kingpin” where they have their doubts.

“It's obvious to anyone looking at the evidence in this case that Jonathan wasn't the one organising things,” Ms Arnold said.

Three others in the group - James Jenkins, 25, Connor Fletcher, 25, and Humayan Sadiq, 43 - were also jailed for a combined 77 years between all four.

The gang would use dummy loads of furniture to hide packages of drugs in lorries and vans, some of which had hidden compartments to conceal the shipments.

The gang used a furniture removal company as a front for their travel.
The gang used a furniture removal company as a front for their travel. Picture: West Midlands Police

Officers from the West Midlands, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia forces working in the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) dismantled the gang’s operations.

Jonathan was arrested in March 2022, and despite his mother’s efforts to reach out to the then West Midlands Chief Constable Sir David Thompson, who she knew, she was instead warned not to approach senior officers.

“It suited their narrative to be able to say 'we've got the kingpin', but it's so far from the truth it's unbelievable,” she added.

She went on to say that the Rolex her son was wearing at the time of arrest was actually her husband’s - his father’s - and that the Ferrari photos were taken on a “lads” holiday when they rented the vehicle for a brief period.

“I’ve seen all sorts of violent crimes, and murderers don't get 23 years in prison. He's done wrong. I can never stand up and say hasn't, but I don't think that his addiction, the guilty plea or the fact he was clearly under duress, was even taken into account in mitigation.

“This has really destroyed my faith in the criminal justice system which I was part of for many years. The only good thing that will come out of this is that I'm going to do something to help the children and families of prisoners, who after all, are innocent, even if they're not always treated that way by the system,” she continued.

Sue and her husband, John Arnold, are appealing their son’s sentence hoping for reduced time.

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