Couriers would use airports including Birmingham to fly in and collect illicit bags
A gang which used couriers flying in from a network of UK airports including Birmingham to smuggle £16 million worth of drugs has been sentenced to 140 years in prison.
The 11-strong group included two baggage handlers who arranged for certain bags arriving at Heathrow Airport from Brazil to avoid going through customs checks.
Couriers would then fly in from domestic airports to pick up the bags from the carousel before moving on and catching internal flights to airports including Birmingham. The audacious racket was smashed when officers swooped in December 2016 and arrested the gang.
A surveillance team watched as British Airways baggage handler Joysen Jhurry, 41, assisted by his colleague Mohammad Ali, 41, arranged to move suitcases containing the drugs off the plane and have them placed on baggage carousels for domestic arrivals. See video of the operation at the top of the article.
Around the time of each flight, Jhurry was in phone contact with his right-hand man Preetam Mungrah, 44, who acted as the intermediary between him and the organisers.
The bags would then be collected by couriers arriving on internal fights from other airports in the UK, who could exit Heathrow domestic arrivals without going through customs controls.
Officers arrested the network following an 18 month investigation led by the National Crime Agency, with support from Border Force and Heathrow Airport.
More than 100 kilos of cocaine and 44 kilos of cannabis was seized during the operation.
On Tuesday, all the gang were sentenced to a total of 139 years for their roles in the smuggling operation at Southwark Crown Court.
Chris Farrimond from the NCA said: “Once it was set up and running they followed the same methodology each time.
“They exchanged photographs of the baggage container it was all going to be coming in – a photo of the suitcase itself.
“So, the rip off team knew which suitcase to pull out to move across onto the domestic arrivals.
“Then, the couriers all they had to do was fly in from Edinburgh or wherever else in the UK – from Birmingham perhaps, go to the carousel, pick up that particular bag – and off they went.”
The gang were also filmed by NCA officers meeting on numerous occasions, either at each other’s houses or in public places, to discuss their criminal business.
NCA regional head of investigations Brendan Foreman said: “This was a sophisticated plot and at the centre of it was a man who used his privileged access to Heathrow and insider knowledge of the airport’s systems for criminal purposes.
“This kind of corruption threatens the security of the UK border and the public at large which is why the NCA and its partners are tackling it as a priority.
“Border Force, Airport authorities and the airline community were vital in helping us to stop this organised crime group in its tracks and pull together the evidence which lead to them being sentenced to significant jail time today.”
Joysen Jhurry, 41, of Banstead, Surrey, along with Damion Goodhall, 30, of Tooting, south London, admitted conspiracy to import class A drugs. He was jailed for 16 years.
Mark Agoro, 51, of Chafford Hundred, Essex, Aziz Abdul, 37, and Moses Awopetu, 38, of no fixed address, also admitted the charge.
Agoro was jailed for 14 years and 6 months, Abdul for 9 years and 6 months, and Awopetu for 6 years and 9 months.
Danovan Bull, 45, of Clapham, admitted possession of class A drugs with intent to supply at Isleworth Crown Court in January 2016 and was sentenced to six years in prison
Michael Sutherland, 48, of South Norwood, Croydon, Francisca Archer, 26, of Stamford Hill, north London, Leiona Townsend-Bartley, 32, of Camberwell, Mohammad Ali, 41 of S Slough and Felicia Kufuor, 66, of Bedford, all denied conspiring to import cocaine but were convicted in February after a three month trial at Southwark Crown Court.
Sutherland was jailed for 20 years, Archer for 6 years and 6 months, Townshend-Bartley for 6 years, Ali for 15 years and Kufour will be sentenced on June 1 due to health complications.
Preetam Mungrah, 44, of Thornton Heath, south London, and Wilfred Owusu, 31, Stoke Newington, north London, were convicted of organising the importation of consignments after an eight week trial at Kingston Crown Court last October.
Owusu was jailed for 20 years and Mungrah was given 13 years.