Updated: Police release photo of trucker who had illicit £630k cannabis load

A TRUCKER who crashed his lorry on the A66 in Cumbria as he transported a cargo of cannabis worth GBP630,000 has been jailed for four years and two months. Valerijus Petrusevas, 41, claimed he knew nothing about the drugs found in his lorry’s  trailer when it crashed near Warcop last year. He maintained that denial even after a Carlisle Crown Court jury was told he was involved in a similar drugs operation a year before the A66 crash when French border officials found cannabis worth GBP620,000 in his lorry.

Escaping prosecution on that occasion, he claimed somebody else was responsible for planting the drugs there.  But at Carlisle Crown Court, it took a jury 3 hours and 58 minutes to find the defendant guilty of possessing the class B drug with intent to supply during his ill-fated journey through Cumbria on October 1 last year. Judge Richard Archer jailed Petrusevas for four years and two months.

He also imposed a 31-month driving ban on the defendant, who had earlier pleaded guilty to careless driving and failing to stop after an accident. During the trial, the court heard that the offence came to light after the defendant was involved in a crash, his lorry overturning on the A66 near Warcop shortly after 8am, leaving the road partially blocked. Despite suffering a serious head injury, Petrusevas fled the scene, hitching a lift with a passer-by and then “hiding” in a Travelodge at Toddhills north of Carlisle.

He stayed there for three days. Witnesses earlier saw him driving his Scania lorry out of a truck stop car park at Scotch Corner on the morning of the accident “like a rocket.” After the accident, rather than wait for police or an ambulance, Petrusevas  – his face bleeding and covered in mud – insisted on being driven away from the scene.

The Good Samaritan who gave him a lift offered to take him to hospital but he refused. When police arrived, they found the cannabis in the trailer, hidden in seven cardboard boxes and two Sports Direct holdalls.  Detectives believe the cannabis was put there – with the defendant’s help – after Petrusevas was visited by a mystery man who drove a silver van into a yard where the defendant had delivered mushrooms.

In his evidence, Petrusevas insisted that he was “not a drug dealer.” He suggested somebody else put the drugs in his lorry, probably as he was sleeping. Of the similar drugs find in his lorry a year before, he said that too had nothing to do with him.

He claimed that the French authorities had caught the culprit. Under questioning from prosecutor Tim Evans, Petrusevas denied turning to drug dealing because he was short of cash. He also denied hiding after the crash, despite leaving for his home in Northern Ireland without contacting the police. Mr Evans said: “You were not innocent in France; and you were not innocent in Cumbria, were you?” The prosecutor spoke of a text message sent by the defendant in which he said: “Class B is good.”

Attempting to explain that, Petrusevas said: “My English is not that good when I write. I didn’t mean it this way.” Mr Evans said: “Did you mean that transporting class B drugs was a risk worth taking for the money?” Mr Evans said: “From the minute the crash occurred, you were determined to escape from the police, weren’t you?

Because you knew you were a drug dealer.” The defendant, of Craigavon, Northern Ireland, has already served around six months of his sentence while waiting for his trial.