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Woman caught smuggling £5.5m from UK to Dubai jailed

Tara Hanlon, who was stopped at Heathrow Airport with suitcases full of cash (PA media)


A recruitment manager who plotted to smuggle more than £5 million from the UK to Dubai when she was cash-strapped on furlough has been jailed.

Tara Hanlon, 30, was stopped at Heathrow Airport as she attempted to board a flight with five suitcases filled with cash totaling £1.9 million.

She claimed to be unaware of the amount of money involved but phone records revealed she had already successfully smuggled £3.5 million on three previous trips to Dubai.

Hanlon, who was furloughed from her job as an operations manager at Leeds recruitment firm Goodall Brazier last March, had also discussed recruiting others to the scam, Isleworth crown court heard.

“There’s clearly an element of greed here”, said Judge Karen Holt, jailing Hanlon for 34 months.

“You were motivated by personal gain, and it was criminal conduct over a sustained period, when it was a very difficult time and very few were travelling. But you were.”

The court heard Hanlon had been recruited as a money mule by Michelle Clarke, a woman she believed worked at Sky and had recently relocated to Dubai.

Prosecutor Nathan Rasiah said Hanlon was stopped on October 3 last year as she tried to board a late-night business class flight, and told officials she had five suitcases because “she wasn’t sure what to wear” on her girls’ trip abroad.

“The officer searched her and her luggage, finding quantities of cash vacuum-packed and covered in coffee powder”, he said.

Hanlon said she had been handed the bags by a driver, with instructions to declare the cash once she landed in Dubai. She claimed she had been asked to fly out to Dubai to do Clarke’s hair, in return for free flights and accommodation.

However evidence from her phone showed a deeper involvement in the smuggling operation.

Hanlon had suggested a friend who might also like to work as a ‘mule’, while messages indicated she had turned to crime to clear her debts.

Mr Rasiah said she was paid £3,000 per trip, and celebrated receiving “three big ones” to allow her to “live her best life”.

Hanlon had also discussed with Clarke how recruits would need to be “fit” to carry the suitcases loaded with cash.

Stephen Grattage, mitigating, said Hanlon’s mother died at the start of the first Covid-19 pandemic, just a day before she was furloughed from work.

“People furloughed really did think they weren’t going to be going back to those jobs, and the enormity of it was mixed for this defendant with grief and loss of friendship and colleagues during lockdown.”

He said Hanlon suspected the trips were illegal, but had convinced herself it was allowed as the cash was declared on arrival in Dubai. Hanlon, from Leeds, pleaded guilty to three counts of removing criminal property and a charge of attempting to remove criminal property.

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