Nearly three decades ago, a tiny beach became the centre of an international criminal conspiracy thanks to a local farmer.
In the summer of 1983 police began to search the tiny cove south of Ceibwr Bay after a number of men began to appear at various spots along the Pembrokeshire Coast.
The men offered outlandish explanations for their presence in Wales and their behaviour only further raised suspicions.
Locals noticed the men purchasing expensive food and drink like money and, before too long, a police investigation called Operation Seal Bay was launched.
During the investigation at Ceibwr Bay, police found a mound of peddles that hid a watertight hatch and, underneath that, a hidden cave.
However, it was only thanks to the local farmer that they were able to discover this.
The secret hideout was only found when the farmer threw a pebble and the stone made a hollow sound as it made contact with the cliffs.
This raised the suspicion of the accompanying police and, after investigating, they found the cave complete with wooden beams and fibreglass to protect the insides from the elements.
Shortly afterwards, police on patrol in the area saw a hiker walking down a lane. The man discarded the rucksack on his back and ran across a field next to the coast. Inside the rucksack was a high-powered radio, which only became active when it received a unique signal.
It turns out that it was being used as part of a huge drug smuggling operation run by a 35-year-old called Soeren Berg-Arnback, a Danish millionaire who was in fact one of the most wanted drug runners in the world.
An expert in disguise, Berg-Arnback had been on the run for eleven years, and had managed to evade capture due to his ability to change his appearance. In his native Denmark, journalists had given him the nickname, ‘the man with the rubber face’.
The cave, as it turned out, had been secretly created with the intention of housing tonnes of cannabis worth millions of pounds – a staggering amount in any era, never mind the early 1980s.
Members of the drug ring were jailed in 1984, including Berg-Arnback, who was using the name Sam Spangaard during his brief period of living amongst the locals of west Wales.
One man who reported on the case was the late BBC journalist Bob Humphrys. He completed his autobiography in 2008, shortly before his death at the age of 56. In it he remembered being at Swansea Crown Court in the summer of 1984 when Berg-Arnback was sent to prison for his role in the drug smuggling plot.
“The man in the dock, standing in front of the judge with all the uninterested nonchalance of a customer being told his car needed a new windscreen wiper at its six monthly service, was one Soeren Berg-Arnback,” wrote Bob Humphrys in Not a Proper Journalist.
“As the Danish drug smuggler yawned and studied his nail at the mild inconvenience of a couple of years free board and lodging courtesy of Her Majesty before hopping back to his private island and swollen bank account, we knew we had a humdinger of a television documentary in prospect – the story of a gang who’d quarried a huge hole in Seal Bay, a remote west Wales cove, with the intention of filling it with three tonnes of cannabis valued, at early eighties prices, at around six million pounds.
“Sadly, however, they hadn’t factored in that in Wales you could dig an undercover silo with all the secrecy of a base for extra-terrestrials in New Mexico and there’d still be someone who’d stumble on it with a muttered ‘what’s this by ere, then?’”
Despite being the head of the organisation, Berg-Arnback was only sentenced to eight years behind bars for conspiring to smuggle drugs into west Wales, and his whereabouts since his release are something of mystery, no doubt a reflection of his expertise in evading attention and leaving invisible footprints, even in a digital age, as Bob Humphrys explained.
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“The multi-millionaire narco-gangster thrilled Denmark’s popular press as they breathlessly wrote about him, his cash and his yacht Crocodile, which was almost identical to the Danish Royal Yacht, except, of course, slightly larger. A picture of him, handcuffed to a Welsh policeman, had the country’s most widely read newspaper proudly stamping ‘Made in Denmark’ on his white T-shirt.
“This was a Viking Jesse James, with huge reserves of ill-gotten cash. All that knowledge was almost completely denied to the judge and his jury at Swansea Crown Court.
“When he prepared to sentence Berg-Arnback to those eight years inside, His Honour couldn’t know that this was no foot-soldier but the top man in the organisation. That rubber face had worked again, the chameleon had blended in, ready to change colour and character – once he was released – for yet another new existence far from Seal Bay.”
Wales has a long history of pirates and drug smuggling over numerous centuries; its long coastline making a popular spot for criminals to bring things ashore that they would rather not, shall we say, declare.
Not many are aware of the story of Soeran Berg-Arnback, however, and how he planned to use a little haven in west Wales as a gateway to get drugs into the UK.
He didn’t quite manage it, thanks to the inquisitive nature of a local community who made sure that nobody, even a sophisticated millionaire, was going to pull the wool over their eyes.
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