Man used secret compartment in van to import cocaine worth millions

A man, who helped an East Midlands gang smuggle millions of pounds worth of drugs into the country from the Netherlands, has been jailed.


In September last year, following an investigation by the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU), we revealed 22 members of the organised crime group had been jailed for more than 200 years between them for the parts they played in Class A and B drug conspiracies between 2017 and 2018.


A recent trial at Leicestershire Crown Court examined the role played by a 51-year-old in the illicit operation.


The man concealed Class A and B drugs inside an internal fake side of a Ford van as he transported it over the Channel by ferry, then drove it to stash houses across England, including in the West Midlands, London, Liverpool, Slough and Halifax.

He was in cahoots with a gang boss, aged 45, who was jailed for 29 years in 2020 for controlling the importation and onward distribution of the drugs.


The EMSOU investigation found the man came to the UK 46 times in 2017, using the same grey Ford Connect van on the ferry from Rotterdam into Hull. Evidence linked him to the seizure of 35kgs of cocaine, which was recovered along with 100kgs of ketamine from one of the gang’s stash houses in Willenhall, Wolverhampton, in December 2017.


Later that same month he was stopped in his van by UK Border Force at King George Docks in Hull, having disembarked the Pride of Rotterdam Ferry. A search of the vehicle revealed 26kgs of cannabis hidden behind wooden side panels, which were released with a custom-made pulley system. A notepad containing a phone number linked to the gang was also recovered.


The man pleaded guilty to importing Class B drugs and was sentenced to two years in jail before being deported.


Officers extradited him from The Netherlands in 2021 to face justice for the 10 trips he’d made to Willenhall, as well as his supplies to other drug importers across the country throughout 2017.


The Dutch citizen was also found to have met another of his cocaine customers in Purfleet, Essex, in August and October 2017.


But before the EMSOU investigation concluded, that man was found in possession of 21kgs of cocaine by the Metropolitan Police in June the following year. He was convicted of possession with intent to supply cocaine and money laundering and was jailed for 15-and-a-half years.


He was latterly arrested as part of the EMSOU operation and charged.


On Friday 11 March 2022, following a trial at Leicester Crown Court, both men were sentenced for their further offending.


The first man, formerly of Den Haag in The Netherlands, was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to import cocaine and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import cannabis, throughout 2017. He was jailed for 22 years.


The second man, formerly of Hornchurch, Havering, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to import cocaine between July and October 2017, and one count of supplying cocaine between July and December 2017. His Honour Judge Brown described him as an 'utterly remorseful drug trafficker,' and jailed him for 20 years.


That brings the tally to over 250 years imprisonment for those convicted under the EMSOU operation.


Detective Constable Gary Sumpter said: “Under Operation Buster we have taken out a significant organised crime group with reach across a large proportion of the country. It cannot be underestimated how many people will have been safeguarded by capping off such a major supply route of highly potent substances.


“The two men jailed today were arrested during our enquiries and were heavily involved in the importation of harmful drugs into the UK.


“In a 12-month period, the 51-year-old had used his converted van to bring hundreds of kilos of cocaine and other drugs from over the Channel. The other man was a valued customer and offered him the means to insert these drugs into our communities.


“Together, they have contributed to causing untold damage though gang violence, addiction and drug dependency-related crime.


“We’ll be using the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize any criminal gains, to ensure neither of them benefit from a single penny they made through drugs.”