A lorry driver caught smuggling cocaine worth an estimated £3m into the UK hidden in the vehicle's fuel tank has been jailed.
Trucker Michael Turner was said to have been paid as little as £700 for what a judge described as "a vital and trusted role" in the drugs enterprise foiled on May 31.
The 53-year-old was driving a UK-registered HGV carrying a legitimate load of Oatly drinks destined for Shropshire when he was stopped at the Channel Tunnel inbound checkpoint at Coquelles in France.
Prosecutor Peter Forbes told Canterbury Crown Court the vehicle was examined and "an unusual area" of the fuel tank was detected.
Closer inspection revealed one end sounded hollow whereas the other had no "ring" to it, he added.
Metal plates and bolts were then removed to allow access to the tank and inside officers found 60 vacuum-sealed packages.
Turner was arrested and denied any knowledge of his illicit cargo. However, his DNA was recovered from one of the packages and on the metal edge of a hatch cut into the concealment area, said Mr Forbes.
"This showed a direct handling of the drugs and their insertion," the prosecutor told the court.
"He would have had some awareness and understanding of the scale of the operation, and its quantity and potential street value is such that the court can infer he would have been receiving substantial financial reward.
"The Crown submit he played an integral role by providing the transport under the cover of legitimate work."
Turner, from Stafford, pleaded guilty to the importation of a class A drug.
The court heard he has no previous convictions other than for offences of careless driving and failing to stop.
Maggie Biglou, defending, said it was Turner's own cocaine addiction which led to his life spiralling out of control.
He lost several jobs as a driver in the agricultural industry through his habit, accrued debts, and used the drug as "a crutch" to cope with anxiety, depression and grief following his mother's death, she told the court.
Ms Biglou added that the offer of £700 to £800 to transport the cocaine was "something he couldn't say 'No' to".
She stressed Turner had not created the hide in the vehicle and had limited influence on the illegal enterprise but accepted there was an "expectation" of significant financial gain.
Jailing Turner for eight years, Judge Simon James said he had been involved in a "massive importation".
"While I have little difficulty in accepting you wouldn't have known the exact value or been the major beneficiary of the millions of pounds generated from the onward sale, you were playing a vital role," he told the trucker.
"To be entrusted with drugs of this value, you must have been trusted and well-thought of, and must have also been expecting a significant financial reward.
"You must have had a clear idea of the scale of the operation in which you were playing such a vital part. You were using your legitimate business as a cover for drug smuggling for profit."