FOUR members of an organised crime gang have been jailed for a total of more than 53 years for smuggling drugs from the Netherlands into Britain and Ireland.
Investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) moved in on the gang after £1.6m worth of cocaine was seized at Belfast Port in February 2021.
On Thursday, Anthony Terry, Michael Collis, Mohammed Omar Khan and Joshpal Singh Kothiria received sentences ranging from three years to 25 years.
Terry, 49, from Wolverhampton, was head of the organised crime group, orchestrating the importation of the cocaine from the Netherlands to England and then across by ferry to Northern Ireland.
NCA officers seized the drugs, which had been hidden in fuel tanks transported within a van, when it arrived at Belfast Port in February 2021.
At the same time, Terry was under surveillance in Wolverhampton and he was arrested the same day.
Terry was working with Collis, 63, also from Wolverhampton, who acted as his driver, picking up the drugs in the Netherlands.
Two other drivers, 24-year-old Kothiria from Wolverhampton and Khan, 39, from Birmingham, were used to supply the drugs to customers in Britain or export them to Ireland.
Exposed by Encrochat
The group used the encrypted messaging service Encrochat to communicate and the NCA was able to identify other occasions where Terry had smuggled drugs and cash.
On one occasion, Terry instructed Collis to travel to the Netherlands on April 6, 2020 where he collected 17.5kg of cocaine.
From there, the drugs were divided up and, while Khan made deliveries to Luton and Slough, Collis travelled to Co. Wicklow to hand over the remainder.
At the same time, Terry sent Kothiria to East London to collect 10kg of cannabis and a vacuum-packing machine.
Kothiria brought these back to the West Midlands where the cannabis was packed before being taken to Co. Leitrim.
A couple of weeks later, Collis picked up 18kg of cocaine in the Netherlands, going on to deliver 10kg to dealers in Britain before taking the rest to Ireland.
The final drug run captured on Encrochat occurred between May 26 and June 3, 2020, where Terry discussed a cannabis delivery.
Kothiria was sent to pick up the load from Leicestershire and take it to Ireland.
The drugs were transported to Northern Ireland by ferry before being driven across the border to be dropped off in Ireland.
NCA officers worked closely with the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in Ireland to track Kothiria's movements.
Despite the NCA talking down the Encrochat platform in June 2020, Terry and Collis continued their criminality.
The NCA discovered that Collis travelled to the Hook of Holland again in July and September 2020 before returning to England, travelling on to Belfast and distributing drugs in Limerick.
'Pursuit of pure profit'
In April this year, Terry pleaded guilty to importing cocaine, a conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracies to import MDMA, cocaine and cannabis into Ireland.
Collis, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to importing cocaine into Britain and Ireland.
On Thursday, they were sentenced to 25 years and 13-and-a-half years respectively.
Terry was already serving an 18-year sentence in relation to the cocaine seized in Belfast in February 2021.
In May, Khan was found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine and Kothiria was convicted of conspiring to import cannabis into Ireland.
They were this week sentenced to 13 years and three years respectively.
"These criminals were determined to smuggle drugs into the UK and onwards to the Republic of Ireland," said NCA Branch Commander Mick Pope.
"They did not care about the geography of their crimes when in pursuit of pure profit.
"They used the road and ferry networks to take their drugs across the Irish Sea, hoping to avoid detection by taking advantage of the common travel area and border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
"This case demonstrates perfectly how the NCA works with partners to tackle cross-border threats between the UK and Ireland, and we will continue do all we can to disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups impacting on local communities."