Birmingham & Black Country

Ambulance 'used to smuggle drugs into UK'

Seized ambulance Image copyright NCA/PA Wire
Image caption The court was told trips in the ambulance had been going on for months

Dutch drug smugglers may have used a fleet of ambulances to smuggle cocaine and heroin with a street value of up to £1.6bn into the UK, a court heard.

Leonardus Bijlsma, 55, and Dennis Vogelaar, 28, who had fake paramedic uniforms, were arrested in Smethwick in June, Birmingham Crown Court heard.

Drugs valued at £420m were imported, the court heard, which could have sold for four times more if cut into wraps.

The two Dutch nationals deny conspiracy to smuggle Class A drugs into the UK.

Robert Davies, opening the case for the prosecution, alleged the two men were part of a "lucrative criminal conspiracy" to sneak hauls of drugs into the UK.

The ambulance trips had been "going for weeks and months," he said.

'Fake patients'

He told the jury the operation, fronted by a bogus ambulance company in the Netherlands, may have seen "top-quality" class A drugs valued at up to £420m reach the UK, via the Channel's ferry ports.

When the high-purity drug packets were cut down to wraps, the cash value could increase four-fold to a "staggering" amount, he said.

In separate smuggling runs, the Crown alleged the accused may have used "fake patients" to strengthen their story.

"Between the vehicles, at least 45 trips can be shown to have been made in 14 months, with the final trip in June," Mr Davies said.

Mr Davies said Mr Bijlsma and Mr Vogelaar were part of a team carrying a letter purporting to be from a Dutch patient who was being taken to a London hospital for treatment.

Their ambulance was seized by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers and found to contain neatly-stacked packets of class A drugs, including ecstasy tablets valued at £60,000, behind metal-riveted panels, the court heard.

'Rammed with drugs'

Also concealed, in colour-coded parcels was 193kg of "top quality" cocaine with a street value of more than £30m and 74kg of heroin, the jury heard.

Mr Davies described it as "an absolutely enormous amount of class A drugs".

"In truth, the ambulance was rammed with drugs," he said.

Mr Bijlsma, of Hoofddorp, and Mr Vogelaar, of Vijfhuizen, deny conspiracy to smuggle class A drugs into the UK, between April 2014 and summer 2015.

Mr Davies said Mr Vogelaar drove the ambulance to the UK, via Harwich, with a male passenger the night before they met Mr Bijlsma - who had used a car to get to the UK - and another man, in Smethwick on 16 June.

"The ambulance men got out and walked up to Mr Bijlsma, and they all shook hands," he said, adding at that moment the NCA officers swooped on the four men.

The two other detained men, Olof Schoon, 38, and 51-year-old Richard Engelsbel, were not in the dock because they had admitted conspiracy to import class A drugs, Mr Davies told the court.

Schoon, director of Dutch-based Schoon Ambulance Company, was described by prosecutors as "the central player".

The trial continues.

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