OPERATION Muzzle was a year-long police operation which brought drug traffickers to justice.

Led by Barnsley's DCI Mark Wilkie, it relentlessly pursued gangs across Europe, the USA and Mexico via bugged cars and phones and meticulous evidence gathering.

Thirty officers from South Yorkshire worked via the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to track the traffickers. Some officers travelled to Tucson, Arizona, where they worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agency.

"The trafficking was like a military operation," said DCI Wilkie. "They're very organised and some of these people thought they were untouchable.

"But no matter how clever or organised, we're still able to detect, arrest and convict those involved in this high level of crime."

Dutch police helped in arrests and surveillance in Holland, and the DEA in the United States prised information out of Mexico. The Metropolitan Police and forces in Hertfordshire and Derbyshire were also involved.

One gang, which heavily featured Barnsley businessman Richard Stead, was bringing cocaine from Mexico and Eastern Europe into Heathrow, concealed in machine parts. These were broken down and the cocaine removed at an industrial unit in the town.

Stead was found guilty of conspiracy to supply drugs. His accomplice, Frank Babar, 47, of Surrey, was found guilty of conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of cocaine, while Marco Martin Russo, 41, from London, was acquitted of the same charge. Babar was found guilty of a second charge of conspiracy to conceal the proceeds of crime.

He said the investigation resulting in convictions was a "fantastic" achievement. "It's good to unravel serious and organised crime that was happening in Barnsley unseen by the majority of people."