Birmingham & Black Country

Dutch 'handyman' denies knowledge of drugs in fake ambulance

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

A man alleged to be part of a group bringing in £38m of cocaine and heroin to the UK in a fake ambulance told a court he was involved as a handyman.

Leonardus Bijlsma, 55, denies being in a £1.6bn scheme to smuggle drugs.

He said he acted as a back-up driver for his boss and was not allowed in the back of the ambulance, where drugs were found in concealed compartments.

Co-defendant Dennis Vogelaar also denies conspiracy to supply drugs.

Prosecutors at Birmingham Crown Court accused father-of-four Mr Bijlsma of being the "right-hand man" in an operation to bring in a "staggering" amount of drugs to the UK.

Image copyright NAtional Crime Agency
Image caption Police found packages of cocaine, heroin and amphetamine as well as thousands of suspected ecstasy pills

The defendant told the jury he was paid 250 euros (£176) per journey by ambulance company owner Olof Schoon to be his "co-driver" and handyman on 16 trips across the Channel.

He said as part of his maintenance work he fixed the vehicle's heater at an industrial lock-up in Colchester - where prosecutors claim packets of drugs were unloaded or loaded - and also repaired a light on a separate occasion when the ambulance turned up outside a hotel he was staying in.

As Mr Schoon had "sleep apnoea", Mr Bijlsma said he was on board as a back-up driver, adding he was not allowed in the back part of the ambulance.

"Nobody was allowed to come into the patient's side of the ambulance because it's sterilised," he said.

He told the court he did not question why he was sent on repeated trips to buy large bags of rivets and was only involved in changing the oil and windscreen washer fluid.

He said: "As you work long in this world, you learn that you don't ask anything."

Officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) discovered colour-coded parcels of 193kg of cocaine worth £30m, 74kg heroin worth £8m in individual deals, and ecstasy tablets and crystal worth £60,000 concealed behind metal rivet panels when they stripped the ambulance in a raid in Smethwick in June.

Mr Bijlsma and Mr Vogelaar, from Amsterdam, were arrested along with Schoon, 38, and 51-year-old Richard Engelsbel.

The jury has already been told that Schoon and Engelsbel have admitted conspiracy to supply drugs.

The trial continues.

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