1 December 2017
A Belgian pilot who dropped cocaine worth around £2.5 million from a light aircraft into a field in Kent has been jailed for 14 years.
Rudi Sels (right), 65, from Balen, near Antwerp, plotted with three British men to identify prospective landing and drop off sites in Kent.
He was seen meeting with two of them in a pub in Rochester and then went on to carry out a recce of a location. They were unaware that they were under surveillance by the National Crime Agency.
On 23 June 2016 officers from the Belgian Federal Judicial Police watched as Sels loaded his plane. It took off and headed towards the UK.
NCA investigators saw it flying low over a secluded field a few miles from Faversham. Shortly afterwards Michael Mealing and Jonathan Hart drove away from the location in a Land Rover.
They were followed to a nearby builders yard where NCA officers arrested them. In the boot of the vehicle were three large fuel containers packaged with tape capable of withstanding a drop from the air. Andrew Barrett was arrested at a separate address in Watford.
A total of 31 kilos of high-purity cocaine was recovered from the containers (below right), with a wholesale value to organised crime of just over £1 million. If cut and sold on the street could have been worth more than £2.5 million.
As the plane returned to France the NCA worked with the French Police Judiciaire to have it monitored on arrival.
Sels would later be arrested in Belgium and returned to the UK on a European Arrest Warrant.
On Tuesday 28 November he pleaded guilty and was jailed for 14 years by a judge at the Old Bailey.
Gary Fennelly, NCA senior investigating officer, said:
“Sels attempted to exploit perceived weaknesses in border controls, but working with the police and Border Force we are actively targeting criminals who try to use general aviation and small airfields as a way into the UK.
“In the fight against smuggling I would urge anyone with information about suspicious activity to report it.”
In January, Andrew Barrett, 42, of Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, was jailed for 16 years, Mealing, 42, of Corsham, Wiltshire, received 12-and-a-half years, and Hart, 61, of no fixed address, was handed 10 years and nine months at the Old Bailey.
The NCA is a partner in Project Pegasus, a multi-agency campaign encouraging people living and working close to small airfields to report unusual activity associated with general aviation.
Anyone with information about unusual activity can report it to their local police force on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.