9 September 2016
Seven members of an organised crime group were sentenced to 121 years today at Birmingham Crown Court after their attempt to smuggle heroin worth nearly £5million into Britain was ended by the National Crime Agency and Border Force.
The conspiracy, led by Andrew Lillis, 47, of Coventry, Mark Regan, 44 and Skinder Ali, 37, both of Birmingham, was discovered when Border Force officers at the Port of Felixstowe searched a shipment from Pakistan in August 2014 and discovered 44kilos of high-purity heroin hidden inside two hydraulic presses weighing 9 tonnes.
Officers from the NCA and Border Force worked with engineers over four days to cut open the ten hydraulic rams (below right), and recovered packages of the Class A drug with an estimated street value of £4.8million.
NCA officers then covertly followed the shipment to an industrial unit in Leicestershire and then on to Birmingham.
Lillis, Regan and Ali, along with Garry Campbell, 58, of Inverness, Trevor Connor, 41, of Birmingham, Darren Clarke, 52, of Tamworth and Anthony Boyle, 46, of Birmingham were arrested between September 2014 and June 2015. Surveillance, fingerprints on paperwork and mobile phone records linked the men to the shipment and to each other.
Investigators discovered that the group had previously organised two similar shipments from Pakistan, believed to be dry runs for the drugs delivery. All three shipments had been addressed to Campbell’s company, GMC Continental, providing a veneer of legitimacy.
HHJ Peter Carr sentenced the men to 121 years in total - Andrew Lillis - 23 years; Garry Campbell – 16 years; Mark Regan – 21 years; Skinder Ali – 21 years; Trevor Connor – 15 years; Darren Clarke – 15 years and Anthony Boyle – 10 years – describing their plot as “a well-planned and sophisticated operation”.
Paul Risby, Branch Commander at the National Crime Agency, said:
“Border Force and the NCA faced a difficult job in intercepting this equipment, opening it up and re-sealing it at speed while preparing an investigation, but were able to complete it all without the criminals suspecting. After that, traditional investigative techniques and the criminals’ own hands on approach combined to bring them down. Their fingerprints were all over the documents.
“The money generated by the sale of the heroin would have funded more criminality.
“This operation shows the real value of close cooperation between the NCA and its law enforcement partners in the pursuit of organised crime groups. It also shows the lengths those groups will go to in trying to evade border controls, and what we can and will do to ensure they don’t succeed.”
Charlotte Mann, Border Force Assistant Director at Harwich said:
“This was a sophisticated attempt by a group of serious criminals to smuggle heroin worth many millions of pounds on to the streets of the UK. It is testament to Border Force officers’ expertise that they did not succeed.
“The drugs had been hidden inside specially adapted pieces of hydraulic equipment. So elaborate was the concealment that it took Border Force officers several days to dismantle the machines and reach the drugs.
“Using advanced search techniques and the very latest technology, Border Force officers are on the front-line of the fight to stop drugs, weapons, contraband and illegal immigrants entering the UK.
“Working with law enforcement colleagues including the NCA we are determined to do all we can to prevent drug trafficking and put those responsible behind bars.”
Sarah Dillon, from the Organised Crime Division at the CPS said:
“In court we presented a strong case with the help of forensic digital evidence taken from mobile phones which exposed their conspiracy to traffick heroin from Pakistan. It was a difficult case but the hard work of the NCA, Border Force and the prosecution team means this attempt to use a container ship to smuggle £4.8m worth of drugs into the UK has been scuppered.
“Today they have been sent to prison for a total of 121 years, sending a clear message that British agencies will work together to ensure those who try to import drugs will be caught and placed before the courts.”
Photos of the seven and the heroin seized can be found on the NCA's Flickr page