England

Redhill helicopter drug smugglers gang jailed

Niels Wartenbergh, Joseph Peel, Ricardo Vorstenbosch Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption Drugs gang (l-r) Niels Wartenbergh, Joseph Peel and Ricardo Vorstenbosch all admitted conspiring to import class A drugs

Smugglers who brought £12m of cocaine and heroin into the UK in a helicopter from Belgium have been jailed.

Dutch pilot Niels Wartenbergh, 28, flew the rented aircraft into Redhill Aerodrome on 21 April with 27-year-old passenger Ricardo Vorstenbosch.

Beforehand it slipped under the radar to drop the drugs in Kent where they were picked up by courier Joseph Peel, 39, Croydon Crown Court heard.

All three pleaded guilty to conspiring to import class A drugs.

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Media captionJoseph Peel was arrested following a high-speed motorway chase

Wartenbergh and fellow Dutch national Vorstenbosch were each jailed for 18 years and Peel, from North Kensington in north-west London, for 16 years.

The court was told the helicopter was being tracked as part of an investigation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), Metropolitan Police, Border Force, and the Dutch and Belgian authorities.

The NCA said Wartenbergh and Vorstenbosch were arrested shortly after they landed at Redhill.

Meanwhile Peel was making a 100mph getaway on the M20 in a hired BMW from the drop at Yalding.

He was stopped and arrested by the Metropolitan Police after he suddenly pulled on to the London-bound M26.

They found six holdalls in the boot containing 43kg (95lb) of cocaine and 60kg (132lb) of heroin with a street value of £12m, along with more than 30 encrypted mobile phones.

Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption The gang had imported 43kg (95lb) of cocaine and 60kg (132lb) of heroin
Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption The drugs were found in six holdalls in the boot of the car on the M26

Later the same day Dutch police searched Vorstenbosch's home in Eindhoven and uncovered another 3kg (7lb) of cocaine, a drug press, vacuum-packing machines and a gun.

Gary Fennelly, head of the NCA's team at Gatwick, said it was targeting criminals who tried to use small airfields as a way into the UK.

"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."

Image copyright National Crime Agency
Image caption The helicopter was flown to Redhill Aerodrome with an unscheduled stop in Yalding

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