A businessman cleared last year of involvement in a cocaine-smuggling ring is set to lose his £2 million home after a High Court judge ruled today that he had "engaged in unlawful conduct as a drug dealer".
An order against Arran Coghlan, 40, of Alderley Edge, Cheshire, was made in favour of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) by Mr Justice Simon, sitting in London, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The judge said Coghlan denied he had ever been a drug dealer, "although he accepted that he had engaged in loan-sharking in the relevant periods".
But the judge said he was satisfied from the evidence that between 1999 and at least April 2004, "Mr Coghlan was engaged in unlawful conduct as a drug dealer and that his drug dealing was the source of his income".
The judge was ruling in a claim for civil recovery by Soca in relation to a house and land at Brook Lane Chapel, the home of Coghlan and his partner Claire Burgoyne.
Mr Justice Simon said: "It is Soca's case that Mr Coghlan's interest in the Chapel is recoverable property because it was acquired directly or indirectly with the proceeds of unlawful conduct (drug dealing) during a period when he had no, or no sufficient, lawful income to acquire it."
He said: "Soca submitted that Mr Coghlan was at the head of a large-scale and profitable drug-dealing enterprise in Stockport from 1997/98 to 2003/04 and had no declared income during this period; and, although he was employed from 2004/05 to 2005/06 he was paid less than £30,000 per annum in those two years.
"Soca contended that his drug dealing can be inferred both from his lifestyle and the lack of any alternative source of income."
The judge said: "Mr Coghlan contended that he has been the victim of a campaign of harassment and criminal misconduct by Greater Manchester Police since at least 1996.
"He pointed out that he has no convictions for drug dealing and none for violence."
The judge said Coghlan had been acquitted of the murders of two men, Chris Little and David Barnshaw.
In 1996 he was cleared of murdering Mr Little, who was shot dead at the wheel of his Mercedes two years earlier.
In 1999 drug dealer Barnshaw, 32, was kidnapped, forced to drink petrol and burned alive in the back of a car in Stockport.
Coghlan was acquitted of leading the gang that tortured and killed Barnshaw when it transpired police failed to pass on information about another possible suspect.
In 2010 he was accused of shooting Stephen Akinyemi during a fight at his mansion.
Mr Justice Simon said: "Mr Coghlan always maintained that Akinyemi was killed in lawful self defence, and this was eventually accepted by the prosecution."
Last June he was cleared of a drugs conspiracy. He had been accused of leading a multimillion-pound cocaine-smuggling ring, but a judge at Liverpool Crown court was told that prosecutors would offer no evidence against him and returned not guilty verdicts.
In his ruling today Mr Justice Simon said he had taken a number of matters into account in reaching his conclusion, including Coghlan's "association with known and convicted drug dealers" and his lifestyle.
A schedule of "known expenditure" for the period 1998 to 2001 included a £2,000 phone system, an £11,525 gold watch and a number of cars - a Lexus, a Bentley Mulsanne, a Porsche and an armour-plated BMW.
The judge said: "I find that from an early stage Mr Coghlan had available cash from his unlawful conduct and was highly sensitive to the risk of recovery under POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act).
"Although he took careful steps to conceal his interest in the Chapel I am satisfied that it existed and derived from his income from drug dealing, and the steps he has taken to conceal his interest in the property and to put it beyond the reach of Soca is further support for the conclusion that his income came from unlawful conduct."
He concluded that the Chapel was "recoverable property".