Published: 14:00, 09 September 2016
| Updated: 14:27, 09 September 2016
A gang of three who smuggled £12million of class A drugs into the country using a helicopter have been jailed for a total of 52 years.
Dutch pilot Niels Wartenbergh, 28, and passenger Ricardo Vorstenbosch, 27, dropped their illicit haul at Yalding, near Maidstone, in April before continuing to Redhill where National Crime Agency officers swooped.
The pair had begun their journey in Belgium but were being tracked as part of a multi-agency operation which also involved the Metropolitan Police, Border Force, and the Dutch and Belgian authorities.
Scroll down to watch the moment police pulled over Joe Peel on the M26
Wartenbergh, who was learning to fly much larger aircraft at the time, dropped under radar coverage deliberately and made an unscheduled stop near the village.
While the duo were being arrested Metropolitan Police officers pulled over a hired silver BMW as it travelled towards London on the M26 near Sevenoaks and arrested the driver, 39-year-old Joseph Peel from North Kensington.
Six holdalls containing around 43kg of cocaine and 60kg of heroin were found in the boot, alongside more than 30 encrypted mobile phones.
Data supplied by the hire company showed the vehicle had been in Yalding at the same time as the helicopter.
Later that day Dutch police searched Vorstenbosch's Eindhoven home and uncovered 3kg of cocaine, a drug press, vacuum packing machines and a gun.
All three pleaded guilty to conspiring to import class A drugs and at Croydon Crown Court today (Friday) Wartenbergh and Vorstenbosch were sentenced to 18 years, while Peel was sentenced to 16 years.
Gary Fennelly, head of NCA’s Gatwick border investigation team, said: “This organised crime group engaged the highly skilled services of a helicopter pilot to attempt to avoid border security by flying under the radar.
“In addition to recovering over 100kg of class A drugs, the operation prevented crime on a much wider scale by denying the sale of drugs worth millions to the crime group, and preventing them from reinvesting the proceeds. It also stopped 30 high value encrypted phones reaching a criminal marketplace where they would have been used to evade detection.
"We are actively targeting criminals who try to use small airfields as a way into the UK. Working with our partners in Border Force, the MPS and law enforcement in Belgium and the Netherlands we are determined to protect the public from the harm caused by serious and organised crime.”
Det Sgt Neil Turner, of the Met’s special projects team, said: “This operation highlights the successful disruption to both national and international crime networks that can be achieved when law enforcement agencies work in partnership.
“As a result of this collaboration a huge amount of Class A drugs will not be available for sale on London streets."
The moment police pulled over Joe Peel's BMW
Sam Bullimore, head of cargo targeting for Border Force, said: “Border Force works tirelessly to identify and target suspicious activity in our skies. This is yet another example of our intelligence-led approach reaping significant rewards.
“Working with our partners, nationally and internationally, this operation has allowed us to protect communities and stop dangerous drugs reaching our streets.”