Published: 16:58, 23 October 2020
| Updated: 10:16, 30 October 2020
Additional reporting by Paul Hooper
A Maidstone man who conspired to smuggle £3m worth of cocaine in a grape lorry has been locked up and 'expects he will come out of prison in a coffin'.
Jason Bunce, of Broomfield Road, Kingswood, was jailed for 15 years at Maidstone Crown Court for his role in the operation which was busted by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
A lorry driver was stopped by NCA officers on April 23 as he crossed from Calais to Dover, after coming from Rotterdam.
The HGV was using specially adapted exhausts from another lorry which were packed with 36kgs of the Class A drugs.
It is thought the drugs were on their way to Northern Ireland.
Bunce, 56, was later arrested and the court was shown photos of encrypted messages recovered from his phone.
Analysis of the messages suggested that the customised exhaust pipes had previously been loaned by Bunce to other organised crime groups who had stock to move.
Prior to the seizure in April, NCA surveillance teams watched as Bunce travelled 150 miles from his home in February to a deserted industrial estate in Warwickshire and remove the exhaust pipes from another lorry.
Prosecutor Kevin Barry said another man took the lorry by ferry to France and then onto Holland.
Mr Barry said: "On April 23, the prosecution claimed that evidence strongly suggested that this was when the operation to take the exhaust to pieces, packing in the drugs and then reassembled."
A jury decided that the driver who picked up a legitimate load of fresh fruit in Rotterdam before returning to Dover had no idea of the concealed drugs.
Bunce was waiting at a service station near Dover to meet the lorry, the court heard.
The prosecutor added: "This was a very valuable consignment of cocaine. It was imported in a well organised and sophisticated manner."
The judge also confiscated the drugs, mobile phones and the lorry.
Irish lorry driver Gary Sloan was found not guilty of the same charge.
Bunce pleaded not guilty at a court hearing in May 2020 but was convicted yesterday.
His barrister Sarah O'Kane told Judge Julian Smith that her client "expects he will come out of prison in a coffin."
Judge Julian Smith told Bunce: "You did this to satisfy your greed. The stakes are incredibly high because the rewards are great.
"You took the risk...you lost. These are the consequences."
NCA regional head of investigations Gerry McLean said: “The lengths that Bunce went to in planning the importation into the UK demonstrated a high level of organised crime.
“It’s clear from the evidence that the customised pipes were extremely valuable items that were part of much wider drug trafficking activity.
“Working with partners like Border Force and PSNI, we’ve stopped a considerable amount of illicit drugs entering the UK."#