LONDON: Three members of an organised crime group have been sentenced to a total of 45 years for smuggling a minimum of £2.49 million worth of heroin from Pakistan into the UK via the post.
The trio – from Luton and Birmingham and reportedly Pakistan origin- imported drugs through UK airports concealed within packages of boxing gloves, equine dentistry tools, and motorcycle gloves, the National Crime Agency has reported.
Thirteen packages were recovered containing a total of five kilos of high purity heroin, with the NCA investigation team estimating a further 14 kilos were imported based on records showing previous parcels linked to the crime group.
The NCA began investigating Sultan Mahmood Butt, aged 37, Nibeel Saghir, aged 34, Rizwan Ahmed, aged 34, who are all relatives from Pakistan now living in the UK, and Denise Ellis, aged 46, from Birmingham, after Border Force officers at Stansted Airport seized almost three kilos of heroin in June 2015 hidden in cobb elevators – a piece of surgical equipment for the spine.
NCA officers identified that Luton-based Butt was the head of the crime group and responsible for organising the importations from Pakistan. Saghir was the middleman who ensured the onward delivery of the drugs to various addresses in Luton and Birmingham, with assistance from Ahmed and Ellis.
Ahmed and Ellis were arrested in 2015 after a number of the intercepted packages were found to be destined for their home addresses. The packages were seized at Stansted, East Midlands and Heathrow airports, plus a parcel delivery depot in Tamworth.
Butt’s phone number was linked to the packages and he was also arrested. He had sent a WhatsApp message of a photo detailing the address for an impending importation that was subsequently intercepted at Heathrow.
Saghir was arrested in January 2016 after the analysis of phone records proved his involvement in the conspiracy. During one 13-minute period, on the date of an attempted drugs delivery, there were twelve calls between Butt and Saghir.
The NCA investigation proved that all four individuals involved in the operation were in contact with each other at key times around each importation. Most of their communication was on burner phones.
Following Ahmed’s arrest in June 2015 and after the second seizure of heroin at East Midlands Airport, Ellis sent a text to an unidentified number: “Txt me wen ready to pick up. Best collect it tonite then I can’t get blamed for anything.”
In July this year Butt, Saghir and Ahmed were all found guilty of importing heroin. Ellis pleaded guilty in September 2017.
In Birmingham Crown Court, Butt, Saghir, Ahmed were jailed for 20, 15, and 10 years respectively. Ellis’ sentencing has been delayed.
Matt Horne, Deputy Director for Investigations at the NCA, said: “Drug trafficking doesn’t always happen in one big shipment. This group attempted to smuggle over £2.49 million worth of heroin little and often through the post, wrongly thinking they could avoid detection.
“Drug trafficking is a major source of revenue for crime groups, many of whom are involved in multiple crime types; adapting their methods to law enforcement responses.
Dan Scully, Border Force Deputy Director Intelligence Operations, said: “Drug smuggling is a serious crime causing real harm to the UK. Those engaged in it will always look for new ways to evade detection. Border Force’s challenge is to stay one step ahead of those who seek to harm our communities.