A FATHER and son have been found not guilty of importing £12million worth of cannabis into the UK.
Mark Neale, 45, and son David Neale, 23, hugged and cried tears of joy as the foreman of the jury at Winchester Crown Court read out the verdicts.
Their acquittal comes after Serious Organised Crime Agency officers (SOCA) swooped on a lorry parked in a Weymouth car park last year and arrested the two men.
They were arrested at the end of a two-week operation in which 4.5 tonnes of imported cannabis were seized.
Mark Neale, of Wareham Road, Owermoigne, and David Neale, of Knightsdale Road, Weymouth, both denied importing cannabis on November 16, 2011 from South Africa.
It took the jury of nine women and three men just over five hours to reach their decision to acquit the pair following their trial.
The court heard that both Mark and David Neale are managers at Western Bed and Furniture Centre in Mandeville Road, Wyke Regis.
The allegations against the pair had been brought after a container en route to Weymouth was intercepted at Tilbury docks.
During the trial, the jury heard that the cannabis had set off by ship from South Africa on October 19 and was subjected to a UK Border Agency search when it arrived in the UK.
Inside the container were 200 boxes, described to the court as ‘Ottoman style’ furniture.
Inside each box, packets of herbal cannabis were found, totalling more than 4.5 tonnes with a street value of around £12million.
An undercover SOCA officer did a controlled delivery of the container lorry to Weymouth, the court heard, with the drugs replaced with sand.
The jury was told that on November 29, 2011 the container lorry arrived at the car park of Value House Stores in Wyke Regis and Mark and David Neale started to unload the boxes into a static storage container when they were arrested.
Two other men had helped them to unload and were arrested at the same time, but were released without charge three months later, the court heard.
During the trial the jury heard that ‘knowledge’ was the crux of the case.
The court heard the business was receiving wholesale orders for beds and then selling them on to retailers.
The jury was told that an advert was placed on a South African web forum to see if anyone wanted to make beds for Western Bed and Furniture.
The court heard that a South African man responded to the advert and said he had a shipment coming into the UK, had been let down and wanted to know if he could have some furniture stored.
Speaking after the verdicts, Judge Andrew Barnett, thanked the jury for their help.
He told Mark and David Neale: “You have been acquitted and you can both leave the dock without further stain on your characters.”
The court ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the drugs.