A HAMPSHIRE man behind a plot to smuggle tens of thousands of fake Viagra tablets into the UK faced jail today.

Kenny Bloom was warned a prison sentence was on the cards after finally admitting his part in a conspiracy to import vast quantities of the counterfeit sex drug from India.

Southampton Crown Court heard how he had been responsible for the English side of the operation, paving the way between contacts at home and abroad. The 62-year-old had repeatedly maintained his innocence but changed three of his five pleas to guilty on the eve of a three-week trial at Southampton Crown Court yesterday.

Bloom, of Danebury Way, Nursling, Southampton, admitted conspiracy to apply false trade marks by putting the Viagra logo on tablets which had a similar content but were not the genuine article.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute the same counterfeit Viagra, and possession of 14 tablets which had been found at his home during a police raid last year.

All offences occurred between New Year's Eve 1998 and September 22 1999.

The court heard the small blue tablets intended for importation had been manufactured illegally in a laboratory in India.

It is thought the plot centred on plans to smuggle 250,000 tablets into the UK, but figures have not yet been read out in court.

The conspiracy was smashed following a long-running investigation by detectives from the Southampton office of the elite National Crime Squad.

Bloom was among four men arrested by the squad in September 1999.

Reporting restrictions formerly banning publication of the case were lifted following an application from the Daily Echo.

Judge Jeremy Burford QC adjourned proceedings for four weeks while pre-sentence reports were prepared, granting Bloom conditional bail in the meantime.

The court heard Bloom, described as a family man, had held a clean record for almost 30 years.

He was bailed on condition seven people stood sureties totalling £200,000, he remained living at his home address, reported to police twice weekly and his passport remained with police.

John Aspinall QC, defending, said Bloom accepted a prison sentence was likely. He said: "There is a clear prospect that the court will be obliged to pass a custodial sentence."

Today the Daily Echo can reveal Bloom had been due to stand trial at Winchester Crown Court in connection with an alleged conspiracy to import a large amount of cannabis.

The matter will now lie on file.

Bloom also faced separate charges relating to the alleged theft and handling of stolen motor vehicles, which will be formally withdrawn at the next hearing.

The Viagra conspiracy relates to plans to import large quantities of the drug in tablet form illicitly manufactured using ingredients similar to those in the genuine article.

Last year detectives who arrested Bloom and others said the move had prevented the importation of commercially available amounts which could have had serious and potentially fatal consequences.

Tight government restrictions on the availability of Viagra, the drug prescribed for impotence sufferers, mean there is currently a huge market for illicit supplies.

Southampton Crown Court heard yesterday how the drug was available on prescription only in the UK and should not be given to those with certain medical conditions, particularly heart patients.