TO the outside world Michael Small was a family man, living in a terraced house and working in a low-paid job to make ends meet.

No-one would have thought he was involved in a big-time drugs ring.

He lived a nondescript life in a small house on Spaines Road, Fartown, with his wife and young son and drove around in an old car.

He had never been convicted of an offence in West Yorkshire and when eventually arrested by National Crime Squad officers he told them he worked as a cleaner.

A West Yorkshire police spokesman said: "Small had not come to our attention for a criminal matter while he lived here.

"He had a small house and did not drive a flashy car. He did not live the lifestyle of someone involved in such a massive money- making operation.

"He blended into the background and did not draw attention to himself."

But Small's involvement in the drugs ring could be traced back to a childhood friendship - one that was to land him in major trouble many years later.

The gang was led by Lincoln White, 39, a Jamaican national who divided his time between Jamaica and London.

He was a friend of Small's when they were both at school in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

And that long friendship meant Small became one of White's trusted lieutenants.

Small's role was to find people willing to take the risk of smuggling the drugs into the country.

He was paid up to £3,000 for each volunteer - or `mule' - he found.

The drugs were often brought into Britain concealed in suitcases and mainly in a paste form, to make them easier to hide in containers such as shampoo bottles or in hidden compartments in the baggage.

Being in a paste form also meant the cocaine was already partly processed into crack.

The drugs were smuggled in from all over the world including the Caribbean and South and Central America.

The smugglers would receive a free two-week holiday in the country where the drugs were coming from, along with £1,000 spending money.

They would then be paid between £3,000 and £5,000 for the drugs they smuggled in - usually between three and five kilos.

One was Phillip Hearsum, 51, of Wensleydale Road, Thornbury, Bradford, who pleaded guilty to drug smuggling.

He ran his own landscape gardening business and was arrested on February 26, 2003, at Gatwick Airport when he arrived from Cancun in Mexico with three kilos of cocaine hidden in his suitcase.

White, too, lived a low-profile existence in the UK, even though he had two luxury mansions in Jamaica, worth £1.5m, and secret bank accounts.

An NCS spokeswoman said: "White kept himself to himself and rented apartments, so he did not have a permanent address.

"He kept moving and also hired inconspicuous cars."

Surveillance had been carried out on the gang since 2002 and 500 police from the NCS, the Metropolitan Police and West Yorkshire police finally swooped in a spate of co-ordinated arrests at 12 addresses across Britain on March 21 last year.

Small was arrested at his home.

During a search of one of White's girlfriend's home in Clapham, London, police found 10.9kg of crack cocaine in a holdall under a bed.

During the operation, almost 45 kilos of cocaine were found.

A separate investigation is now under way to try to track down all the gang's cash and property which is stashed away.

The officer leading the investigation, Det Chief Insp Mick Ryan, said: "This case demonstrated what role each individual had to play in this vile trade of crack cocaine supply on our streets, from couriers being recruited up and down the country and dispatched to Latin America to the end product in the form of a massive haul of crack.

"Lincoln White's removal from the scene has resulted in a reduction in the amount of crack now available on the streets.

" That, in turn, has led to a reduction in the types of crimes that addicts commit in order to fund their habit, such as street robbery.

"My message to these drug lords is simple. If you think you are untouchable, think again.

"Equally, if you are approached by someone and asked to be a courier, think again.

"Ask yourself if a jail sentence - possibly in a foreign jail - worth just a few thousand pounds?"

The other gang members were Errol Williams, 30, of Brixton, London; Julio Vispo, 36, of Streatham, London; Janet Claydon, 41, of Lewisham, London; Maxine Hemmings, 39, of Mitcham in Surrey; Yuleane Tulloch, 27, of Clapham, London; Aluwakemi Osagie, 21, of Liverpool and Natasha Osagie, 20, of Liverpool.