Irishman jailed in UK for shipping cocaine and drug money ordered to pay €725,000 to Britain’s NCA

Thomas Maher (42) was arrested in 2019, but never charged, when 39 Vietnamese people found dead in truck in Essex after botched people smuggling operation

An Irishman convicted of his role in an international drugs smuggling conspiracy has been ordered to pay almost £630,000 to Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA). Thomas Maher (42) was convicted in 2020 in the UK of transporting drugs to Ireland, and smuggling money linked to the drugs trade.

A haulier, originally from Clara, Co Offaly, Maher was also arrested, but never charged, in 2019 when 39 Vietnamese people were found dead in the back of a truck in Essex in a people smuggling operation involving a number of other Irishmen.

Maher, now of Wiltshire Close, Warrington, has been ordered by a judge at Liverpool Crown Court to pay £629,159 (€725,493). The NCA said the confiscation order includes “his house in Warrington, cars, lorries, jewellery, a number of high value watches, artwork and gold ingots bought in Dubai”. He must pay the money within six months or face an extra six years in prison, added to the 14 years and eight months he is already serving.

The truck that was used to smuggle the Vietnamese people into the UK in 2019 was once owned by Maher and remained in his wife’s name after it was sold. However, while Maher was arrested as part of the inquiry into the deaths of the 39 victims, he was never charged and no further action was directed against him in that case.


An NCA investigation then found he lived a luxurious lifestyle despite claiming to earn less than minimum wage. The NCA put Maher under surveillance for seven months, including witnessing him meeting criminal associates in the UK to organise cocaine trafficking from the Netherlands to Ireland and the UK.

After the confiscation order granted by the court in Liverpool on Monday, the NCA’s head of asset denial, Rob Burgess, described Maher as “a career criminal who was trusted by some of Europe’s biggest crime groups to move their drugs and money”.

“The confiscation order will ensure money he made will be returned to the public purse to fund further efforts to protect the public from organised crime,” he added.

Maher was sentenced by Liverpool Crown Court to 14 years and eight months in December 2020, after he pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad at an earlier hearing.

The court heard that between March and May, 2020, he played a role in conspiracies to transport a total of about £1.5 million of cocaine from the Netherlands to Ireland, via the UK, and to launder about £1 million cash between Ireland and the Netherlands.

The father-of-three used encrypted phone network Encrochat – which was accessed in 2020 by law enforcement agencies across Europe – to plan the transportation, the court heard.

Catherine Rabaiotti, prosecuting in 2020, said Maher was arrested at his home on June 13th that year, the same day Encrochat issued an alert telling users it had been compromised. Neither of the two Encrochat devices linked to him were recovered, the court heard.

Ms Rabaiotti said messages showed him acting as a go-between and “logistics manager”. “Passwords, times, details of stops and prices were passed through the defendant acting as a middleman for the parties,” she said.

NCA officers seized vehicles including a high-end Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery and an imported Corvette worth £70,000 following his arrest. He spent thousands on holidays to Dubai, Mexico and New York and while in Dubai bought artwork including a map of the world made of bullets.

During the 2020 court process a count of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad – that of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm to Ronan Hughes in Ireland between April 21st and 29th 2020 – was ordered to lie on the file after Maher pleaded not guilty.

Hughes, from Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in August, 2020, to 39 counts of manslaughter following the deaths of the Vietnamese migrants in 2019.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times