Gang smuggled almost two tonnes of drugs into UK through fake furniture removal firm
Members of an organised crime gang pretended to operate a furniture removal firm in order to smuggle almost two tonnes of cocaine, heroin and ketamine into the UK.
West Midlands Police say the gang imported at least £135 million-worth of drugs into the UK, with those behind the operation facing years behind bars.
The gang would use dummy loads of furniture to hide packages of drugs in lorries and vans, some of which had hidden compartments to conceal the shipments.
Six men now face lengthy jail terms after the gang's operations were smashed by officers working in the Regional Organised Crime Unit for the West Midlands.
These include 29-year-old ringleader Jonathan Arnold, of Cremorne Road, Sutton Coldfield. He enjoyed a life of luxury which included trips to Dubai where he would film himself at the wheel of a Ferrari.
The gang's downfall began in 2022 when French customer's officers searched a Real Estate Removals van being used by a courier on a drug run to Europe. The officers found 63 blocks of cocaine weighing 71kg along with 99 bags of ketamine weighing 101kg.
The drugs had a UK wholesale value of £2,561,900.
The biggest single seizure came in April last year, when the gang tried to bring 1,477kg of cocaine with a street value of around £118m into Portsmouth. These were hidden among bananas which were seized by Dutch police officers on a ship that had travelled from Colombia to Vlissingen in the Netherlands. The ship was allowed to continue its journey into Portsmouth, after the drugs had been removed.
Two months later, Connor Fletcher - one of the gang's drivers - travelled to a town near the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, for an overnight trip, and came back with 60kg of cocaine hidden in two secret compartments built into the floor of the lorry.
However, he was intercepted by Border Force after investigators had linked him to the gang.
At Birmingham Crown Court, Arnold admitted four charges of conspiracy to import and supply drugs – cocaine, heroin and ketamine.
Three other men were also convicted.
James Jenkins,25, of Lichfield Street, Tamworth, was a supervisor for the operation. He was found not guilty of importing cocaine but guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Connor Fletcher, aged 25, of Bridgnorth Road, Wolverhampton, drove an HGV into Dover from Calais containing 60 kg of cocaine concealed within two hides. He was found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine.
Humayan Sadiq, aged 43, of Manchester, had planned to move the cocaine that was due to have been brought into Portsmouth from Colombia via Holland. He was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine.
Det Ch Supt Jenny Skyrme, head of the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: “We can’t underestimate the scale and significance of this criminal organisation. This is the biggest drugs case that we have ever dealt with as an organisation.
“The gang was operating at the highest levels of criminality, bringing in industrial quantities of drugs to sell on the streets of the West Midlands and beyond.
“As the head of the crime group, Jonathan Arnold enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, driving luxury cars and enjoying trips to Dubai.
“He gave the impression that he was a legitimate businessman with a small firm which moved furniture and had a turnover of £50,000 a month.
“The reality was that he was arranging tens of millions of pounds worth of drugs to be imported into the UK from Europe and South America, which would have gone on to cause untold misery and significant harm to communities.
“We were able to build a really detailed picture of this operation through mobile phone analysis, CCTV and other intelligence.
“Working with the National Crime Agency, Border Force, and law enforcement abroad, we’ve been able to put the gang behind bars where they will spend many years.”
Singling out Arnold, she added that the ringleader "was not shy in showing the wealth that he'd accrued through this drug-dealing empire".
"He would regularly travel to Dubai, he would drive high-powered, high-value vehicles, even having cosmetic surgery from the money that he made."
The four men will be sentenced at a later date.
Two others on trial - Jack Bishop, aged 31, of Hockley Road, Tamworth, and Ryan Hatton, aged 27, of Trent Valley Road, Lichfield were found not guilty of the drugs charges against them.
Members of another international drugs syndicate based in Wolverhampton have also been convicted after being busted with cocaine worth £1.6 million.
The gang used sophisticated methods of smuggling kilos of cocaine from the Netherlands into the UK and then crudely distributed them to street dealers throughout the country.
The brains behind the operation Anthony Terry, 49, of Crawford Road, Wolverhampton, pleaded guilty to importation of cocaine, conspiracy to supply a class A drug and three counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad.
Right-hand man Michael Collis, 62, also of Crawford Road, pleaded guilty to importation of cocaine and conspiracy to commit a crime abroad.
Two distributors in the gang, Mohammed Omar Khan, 38, from Birmingham and Joshpal Singh Kothiria, 33, from Wolverhampton were found guilty after a three-week trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court.