THREE members of a gang who smuggled at least £2.5million worth of heroin into the UK hidden in motorbike and boxing gloves have been jailed for 45 years.
The gang was part of a larger network importing heroin posted from Pakistan to Britain in small shipments via Stansted, East Midlands and Heathrow airports.
The drugs were hidden in the gloves as well as a package of horse dentistry tools and surgical equipment.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) was alerted after Border Force officers at Stansted Airport seized almost three kilos of heroin in June 2015 hidden in cobb elevators — a piece of surgical equipment for the spine.
They identified Sultan Mahmood Butt, 37, from Luton, as the ringleader, operating with relatives Nibeel Saghir and Rizwan Ahmed, both 34.
Officers recovered 13 packages containing a total of five kilos of high-purity heroin. They estimated a further 14 kilos were imported based on records showing previous parcels linked to the crime group.
Butt got the drugs in from Pakistan, while Saghir arranged for their distribution to addresses in Luton and Birmingham, helped by Ahmed and Denise Ellis, 46, from Birmingham.
Ahmed and Ellis were arrested in 2015 after a number of the intercepted packages were found to be destined for their home addresses.
The packages were seized at Stansted, East Midlands and Heathrow airports, plus a parcel delivery depot in Tamworth.
Butt’s phone number was linked to the packages and he was also arrested.
He had sent a WhatsApp message of a photo detailing the address for an impending importation that was subsequently intercepted at Heathrow.
Saghir was arrested in January 2016 after the analysis of phone records proved his involvement in the conspiracy.
During one 13-minute period, on the date of an attempted drugs delivery, there were 12 calls between Butt and Saghir.
The NCA investigation proved that all four individuals involved in the operation were in contact with each other at key times around each importation. Most of their communication was on burner phones.
In July this year Butt, Saghir and Ahmed were all found guilty of importing heroin. Ellis pleaded guilty in September 2017.
At Birmingham crown court, Butt was jailed for 20 years, Saghir, 15 and Ahmed 10 years. Ellis’ sentencing has been delayed.
Border Force deputy director of intelligence operations Dan Scully said: ‘Drug smuggling is a serious crime causing real harm to the UK.
‘Those engaged in it will always look for new ways to evade detection. Border Force’s challenge is to stay one step ahead of those who seek to harm our communities.’