England news May 20, 2009

Chris Lewis found guilty of drug smuggling

Cricinfo staff

The former England allrounder, Chris Lewis, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison after being found guilty of smuggling cocaine into the country.

Lewis, 41, was arrested at Gatwick in December last year after a flight from St Lucia, when customs officials found five cans of fruit juice in which cocaine had been dissolved.

He had been travelling with a friend, Chad Kirnon, a former basketball player for London Towers, arriving back from holiday in St Lucia, although the pair were stopped independently at the airport. Lewis said that Kirnon had later offered to take the blame in return from £100,000 from Lewis. Both men received the same 13-year sentence.

Jurors heard that the cocaine, which was found dissolved in the liquid contents of five tins, would at 100% purity weigh 3.37kg, giving the haul an estimated street value of £140,000. Traces of cannabis residue were also found in Lewis's luggage, and while he told the jury at Croydon Crown Court he had smoked cannabis while in St Lucia, he said he was "completely innocent" of knowingly smuggling drugs to the country.

He told the jury that Kirnon had asked him to carry the tins of fruit as he was concerned his luggage might be overweight. "I don't necessarily believe that Mr Kirnon wanted me to get caught, but if you infer by Mr Kirnon giving me the cans that he set me up then yes," Lewis said. "Generally throughout my life, my cricket career, when things have gone wrong it's gone wrong in a very public way."

Tom Wilkins, prosecuting, told the court that Lewis had been stopped shortly after 5am on 8 December. "When the customs officer pulled him over, Mr Lewis stated that he was travelling alone and had been in St Lucia visiting friends and family," he said. When Lewis's luggage was inspected, the Puma cricket bag was found to be labelled with Kirnon's name, Wilkins told the court.

Lewis's former England team-mate, Angus Fraser, reacted with sadness to the news, and said that the case should serve as a warning to all players of the trappings of fame. "I suppose this highlights how difficult it can be for players to cope once they stop playing cricket," he told Cricinfo. "They get used to a lifestyle and a certain standard of living, and a lot of cricketers don't plan for what to do when they stop playing."

"As a person, Chris liked the nice things in life, the clothes and the cars, but once his playing days were over, his means of income was reduced. He needed the money and it appears he got dragged into something like this. It's very sad."

Lewis is currently in High Down prison where he revealed he is now the anti-bullying representative, as well as working as his block's race-equality rep. "It's a simple one: either you did it and you knew or you didn't," he said. Lewis added that Kirnon, who is also at High Down, had approached him in prison and asked him for £100,000 in exchange for taking the blame.

"Until that point it was a simple case," he said. "You had given me the juice, just say so, story's over. Now he's trying to get a bit of cash out of me."

In handing down his sentence, Judge Nicholas Ainley declared that Lewis and his accomplice had been motivated by greed and had sought refuge in cowardice. "In a cowardly attempt to evade justice, you each sought to blame the other for a crime you obviously jointly committed," he said. "Drug smugglers would not entrust a valuable cargo like this to an innocent traveller."

"You made it to the top of your profession, [but] this was greed and I am sure that you ran the risk that you did because you deduced that the risk was worth it, because the rewards were substantial. You were knowingly and willingly engaged in major organised crime."