We sent our boy to public school… he became a £120m drug lordAugust 5, 2023
We spent £45,000-a-year sending our boy to public school… but he became a £120M drug lord: Ex-Deputy Crime Commissioner’s agony as son is jailed for 23 years over cocaine haul plot
- EXCLUSIVE: Ex police boss speaks out after her ‘drugs kingpin’ son was jailed
- Jonathan Arnold was caught in a plot to import nearly £120million of cocaine
- READ MORE: Ex-deputy police commissioner’s ‘kingpin’ son jailed for 23 years
Sitting pensively with his team-mates in the cricket XI, this was Jonathan Arnold, the public schoolboy this week labelled a ‘drugs kingpin’ by police after being caught in a plot to import nearly £120million worth of cocaine.
Now his mother Sue, a former Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, has exclusively told MailOnline how her son, once a pupil at prestigious £45,000-a-year Repton School, alma mater of Roald Dahl and Jeremy Clarkson, dragged himself and his family on a terrifying journey into the abyss.
If Sue Arnold needed confirmation of just how badly her son’s life had gone astray, it came in the shape of a 14-strong police search team raiding her detached rural home following his arrest for serious drugs offences in March 2022.
West Midlands Police would later portray her son Jonathan as ‘the head of the organised crime group’ which used a furniture removal business as a front as a ‘colossal’ amount of drugs smuggled in from Colombia.
The force said this helped fund a lavish life of luxury including trips to Dubai, a Ferrari, an expensive Rolex and even new teeth.
Smiling shyly with his team-mates in the cricket XI, this was Jonathan Arnold, the public schoolboy this week labelled a ‘drugs kingpin’ by police after being caught in a plot to import nearly £120million worth of cocaine
Now his mother Sue Arnold (middle, with her husband John, left, and son, right), a former Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, has exclusively told MailOnline how her son, once a pupil at prestigious £45,000-a-year Repton School, alma mater of Roald Dahl and Jeremy Clarkson, dragged himself and his family on a terrifying journey into the abyss
Arnold, 30, admitted in court that he was involved in a conspiracy to supply 1,477kg of cocaine, with a street value of approximately £118million
Arnold, 30, admitted in court that he was involved in a conspiracy to supply 1,477kg of cocaine, with a street value of approximately £118million
Arnold, 30, admitted in court that he was involved in a conspiracy to supply 1,477kg of cocaine, with a street value of approximately £118million. The drugs were hidden inside pallets of bananas on board a ship from South America.
READ MORE: Ex-deputy police commissioner’s son is jailed for 23 years for his role as drugs kingpin who smuggled £135m of cocaine, heroin and ketamine into the UK
Arnold’s role involved supplying a driver for the drugs to be brought into Britain from the Continent, but Dutch police, working on a tip-off, had already intercepted the shipment and substituted blocks of wood for the drugs.
For any mother, the allegation that her only child was a ‘drugs kingpin’ – this week handed a hefty jail sentence of 23 years and six months – would be a crushing blow, but for Sue Arnold, 63, a former deputy Police and Crime commissioner of Staffordshire, it was nothing short of devastating.
Her own reputation as a successful businesswoman and public servant lay in tatters as a result of the scandal, her sense of shame and embarrassment almost palpable.
How could she be taken seriously as a public official charged with holding the police to account when her own son had managed to build a drugs ’empire’ under her very nose?
The truth, she claims, is very different, and far from being the organised crime boss claimed by West Midlands Police, her son was yet another addict who fell foul of the real kingpins. And while Sue Arnold and her husband John, 72, instruct lawyers to appeal against their son’s harsh sentence, she has also come out fighting against the senior police officers who she says exaggerated her son’s role to suit their own ends, while the genuine bosses escaped justice.
A seasoned political campaigner who once stood for Parliament, Sue has no illusions about how her latest, highly personal, campaign might come across to cynics.
‘Some people will just say it’s sour grapes and that every mother of a criminal claims her son is innocent,’ she told MailOnline in an exclusive interview.
But she raises several troubling questions which might just make the doubters think again:
- If Jonathan Arnold was the ‘kingpin’ of the operation, then who ordered two hooded assailants to beat up his elderly father at home earlier this year, threatening the entire family with a return visit, unless Jonathan stayed quiet?
- Who sent a team of thugs armed with machetes to Jonathan’s removal firm handcuffing his employees, threatening them with chainsaws and demanding to know his whereabouts a few weeks before he was arrested?
- Why did the police allegedly take little notice of the Arnold family’s reports about suspicious cars and individuals spotted around their property in the month leading up to the hearing at Birmingham Crown Court?
- Why were the police and prosecutors so keen to portray Jonathan Arnold, a businessman with a clean record, as the ‘boss’ of the enterprise when many facts suggested otherwise?
If Sue Arnold needed confirmation of just how badly her son’s (left as a baby; right as a young boy with his mother in New York) life had gone astray, it came in the shape of a 14-strong police search team raiding her detached rural home following his arrest for serious drugs offences in March 2022.
For any mother, the allegation that her only child (pictured left as a toddler; right as a young child) was a ‘drugs kingpin’ – this week handed a hefty jail sentence of 23 years and six months – would be a crushing blow, but for Sue Arnold, 63, a former deputy Police and Crime commissioner of Staffordshire, it was nothing short of devastating
Unlike many families of criminals, whatever their complaints about the police portrayal of their son, the Arnolds don’t shirk from the fact that he pleaded guilty and deserves to be punished.
Ironically, Sue Arnold believes that the very ‘honour’ instilled in her son as a boarder at Repton School played a significant part in ensuring his silence about who was really pulling the strings in the drugs deal – if indeed he even knew.
‘It definitely wasn’t the done thing to ‘grass’ on another pupil at school, and I think that’s part of the reason why Jonathan pleaded guilty yet never informed on anyone else,’ she said.
Of course, schoolboy honour aside, her son also has at least a decade ahead of him behind bars and is also well aware of the grisly fate awaiting police informants in prison.
Absolutely nothing in Arnold’s previous life gives any indication of the dark path he would tread.
READ MORE: Ex-police chief says her son who smuggled £135m of cocaine and heroin into the UK was ‘wrongly’ portrayed as a ‘drugs lord’ and denies he splashed out on Ferraris, watches and new teeth thanks to his criminal empire
The family photo album is replete with images of a boy seemingly on a one-way track to success, starring in his prep school’s football and cricket XI, and then later, reports from the local newspaper highlighting the record-breaking number of points he scored for local team Tamworth RUFC in two successive seasons.
‘We still cannot fully comprehend where it all went wrong,’ said Sue, with tears in her eyes. ‘We waited 10 years for a child and had given up hope of ever conceiving. He was precious to us from the moment he was born. We were fortunate that we had both been successful and were able to give him the very best life we could.
‘We’ve spent months asking ourselves if we should have done something different, or if Jonathan has been treated more harshly because of my former position.
‘While he was privileged, he always had a predisposition to help those less fortunate. He helped at Samiad International school, [a Summer school for overseas children to learn English] teaching rugby to the younger children. He had an awful lot of empathy for these kids who were away from their families.’
A gifted cricketer who played for his county side and a footballer who trialled for Aston Villa, Jonathan eventually joined his father’s successful nationwide sign-erecting firm for several years, working all over the country, specialising in the pub trade.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the family business was dealt a fatal blow and Jonathan, who by now had launched his own international removals company, Real Estate Removals, found himself physically tested beyond endurance.
‘He’d be setting off with his team in the early hours on long journeys all over the country and we later discovered he’d been recommended to take [powerful opiate] Tramadol with energy drinks to keep himself going,’ said Sue.
‘It’s incredibly addictive and it got to the stage where he was taking as many as 20 tablets a day. Research has shown that prolonged overuse of the drug can compromise memory, awareness, judgement and mental acuity.’
A pictured of Jonathan Arnold with his mother attached to a card wishing him a happy 18th birthday
Jonathan Arnold as a young boy in his cricket uniform for a team photo
Ironically, Sue Arnold believes that the very ‘honour’ instilled in her son (pictured as a young man) as a boarder at Repton School played a significant part in ensuring his silence about who was really pulling the strings in the drugs deal – if indeed he even knew
The Arnolds believe their son’s involvement in the world of drugs was due to a combination of factors. His search for an illegal supply of the prescription-only Tramadol brought him into contact with criminals, and with his removal business in trouble, the offer of ‘easy money’ seemed too good to pass up.
For whatever reason, no-one disputes that Jonathan took the fateful decision to supply a substitute driver to transport the shipment of drugs (which unbeknown to him had already been intercepted by the authorities and substituted).
But his parents point out that it’s a very long stretch to equate that with organising the entire operation or even knowing the quantity of drugs involved – which was the key factor in the length of his sentence.
‘It’s obvious to anyone looking at the evidence in this case that Jonathan wasn’t the one organising things,’ said his mother.
His business was visited by armed assailants in early 2022, tying up and threatening the employees, asking them ‘where’s the stuff? and where’s your boss?’
Staffordshire Police were called to the scene, yet despite promising to take statements from the employees, never did, according to those present.
Weeks of worry followed, during which time Jonathan asked some of his 60 or so employees to take turns on ‘sentry duty’ in their vehicles parked in his parents’ driveway at their home near Tamworth, Staffs.
Then came Jonathan’s arrest in March 2022, and later that day, the arrival at the Arnold’s home by the mob-handed police search team.
Recalled Sue: ‘They didn’t say anything for an hour, just went through absolutely everything. They went through my underwear drawer and one of the officers made some totally inappropriate remark, saying ‘they may need washing’. I’ve lodged an official complaint about that.
‘They took away a memory stick which only had Jonathan’s son’s christening on it – we’ve only just received that back, 18 months later.’
Sue Arnold made several attempts to inform the West Midlands Police Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) investigating Jonathan’s case about the suspicious vehicles and activity the family had noticed around their large property.
As Sue points out, not only was the family’s safety at stake, but a more pro-active approach by police might have been able to trace the drug-dealing hierarchy further up the chain.
She even reached out to the then West Midlands Chief Constable Sir David Thompson, whom she knew, to ask his detectives to take her calls. All she got in reply was a veiled threat from one of the officers, delivered via Jonathan’s lawyer, warning her not to approach senior officers, or she would ‘get a visit’.
Eventually, she reached the conclusion that the police were happy to neatly tie things off by painting her son as the ultimate boss.
‘It suited their narrative to be able to say ‘we’ve got the kingpin’, but it’s so far from the truth it’s unbelievable,’ she said.
Then in April 2023, Jonathan’s father John was assaulted by two men shortly before the court case the following month.
Recalled John: ‘I was weeding in the garden and they came over to me and hardly said anything before throwing me to the floor where I landed on my face. They told me they’d be back if we said anything to the police, by which I felt they meant me, the family and Jonathan, who was at that stage on remand. It was utterly terrifying.’
At first the Arnolds didn’t even bother to report the attack to the police as they had lost all faith that their claim would be taken seriously.
When they did call it in, they were visited not by a member of the ROCU, but by a crime reduction officer.
After Jonathan Arnold was charged in August 2022, and the wheels of justice began to move towards the proceedings at Birmingham Crown Court, his parents began to face the awful truth that their son could face many years in prison – though they never expected a sentence as harsh as 23 years, especially as he pleaded guilty.
One aspect which hurt Sue Arnold, who in her previous role rubbed shoulders with many high-ranking officers, was her deeply-held suspicion that it was the police who tipped off journalists about her son’s connection to her, and her high-profile former job, giving the case far more publicity than it would have otherwise received.
But the most damaging thing about the police ‘sharp practice’ she said was the way they latched onto otherwise innocuous details and made them fit a ‘false narrative’.
The Rolex watch he was said to have owned, actually belonged to his father, said the Arnolds, and was purchased when Jonathan was at primary school. Occasionally John allowed his son to wear the watch, and he happened to be wearing it when he was arrested. Despite offering the police a dated and stamped insurance valuation & the name of the owner who sold the watch, they don’t believe they’ll ever receive it back.
As for a claim that Jonathan had £24,000 veneers fitted on his teeth (pictured) paid for by his ‘criminal lifestyle’, the Arnolds point out the price paid in Dubai was actually 24,000 Dirhams, equivalent to around £5,000, and the money had nothing to do with the drug deal Jonathan later got involved with
The force said this helped fund a lavish life of luxury including trips to Dubai, a Ferrari, an expensive Rolex and even new teeth. But the watch he was said to have owned, actually belonged to his father, said the Arnolds, and was purchased when Jonathan was at primary school
Photos on Jonathan’s Instagram page of him in a Ferrari were taken on a ‘lads’ holiday to Dubai with friends and the car was rented for a short while, but when the images were handed out after the case by police, they fitted the ‘kingpin’ lifestyle perfectly.
‘He’s never owned a car in his life,’ said Sue, ‘the vehicles he’s had have either been leased or owned by our firm.’
Ironically John senior pointed out a 25-year-old photo of his own restored Ferrari 308 GTB, now long-since sold, with Jonathan on his father’s knee at the wheel as a child. ‘That’s the only Ferrari there’s ever been in this family he said.’
As for a claim that Jonathan had £24,000 veneers fitted on his teeth paid for by his ‘criminal lifestyle’, the Arnolds point out the price paid in Dubai was actually 24,000 Dirhams, equivalent to around £5,000, and the money had nothing to do with the drug deal Jonathan later got involved with.
Sue explained that her son had years of gruelling dental reconstruction work after a teenage accident on a waterpark flume in Morocco on a family holiday when he collided with another boy who was climbing up the slide while Jonathan was hurtling down it, and always wanted to buy himself the veneers which his parents disliked as being ‘too white’.
Sue often finds herself struggling to deal with the enormity of her son’s prison sentence: ‘I’ve seen all sorts of violent crimes, and murderers don’t get 23 years in prison. He’s done wrong. I can never stand up and say hasn’t, but I don’t think that his addiction, the guilty plea or the fact he was clearly under duress, was even taken into account in mitigation.
‘This has really destroyed my faith in the criminal justice system which I was part of for many years. The only good thing that will come out of this is that I’m going to do something to help the children and families of prisoners, who after all, are innocent, even if they’re not always treated that way by the system.’
The case has had other ramifications on the Arnold family too. Two of their extended family members are serving police officers, who have been ordered by their superiors to avoid contact with Sue and John.
Looking to the future, John Arnold said, his voice heavy with emotion: ‘My son is going to be in for at least another ten years, unless we are successful appealing against the sentence. I can’t be sure I’ll still be alive when he gets out. It’s all the family holidays and the Sunday lunches we’ll never get to share, that’s what breaks my heart.’
Jonathan as a baby pictured sitting in a baby carrier attached to the back of his father’s bike
West Midlands Police would portray her son Jonathan as ‘the head of the organised crime group’ which used a furniture removal business as a front as a ‘colossal’ amount of drugs smuggled in from Colombia
Despite everything, Jonathan’s parents are proud of their son’s adaptability and say he has been coaching the football team in Birmingham’s tough Winson Green prison, and acting as a ‘listener’, visiting other inmates struggling with mental health problems. He’s also passed on his mother’s number to other prisoners so that their wives and girlfriends can call her for practical advice.
‘You’d never think of Jonathan as a public school boy,’ says his mother. ‘He’s got a Midlands accent and they used to call him ‘Brummie’ when he was at Repton. He has the ability to get on with anyone.’
Along with Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend, the Arnolds are co-parenting his five-year-old son, who for the moment has been given a pretext to explain his father’s absence.
But Sue is realistic about how long that pretence can last. ‘I know there will come a time when he looks his dad up on the internet and finds out all about this case,’ she said.
‘But I don’t want the police lies about him being some kind of kingpin to be his legacy, because that’s just not true.’
West Midlands and Staffordshire Police forces were contacted for comment.
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