Trio sentenced for a total of 70 years after £1.6b drug-smuggling plot

Birmingham Crown Court Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Three men have been sentenced today for a total of 70 years, for their roles in a £1.6 billion drug-smuggling plot that involved fake ambulances.

The Dutch men, Olof Schoon, Leonardus Bijlsma and Richard Engelsbel, were convicted earlier this year of being part of the 14-month conspiracy to sneak "staggering" amounts of heroin and cocaine into Britain.

The trio have been handed lengthy prison terms today at Birmingham Crown Court by Judge Francis Laird QC.

55-year-old Bijlsma was found guilty of involvement in the conspiracy, and was given 28 years.

38-year-old Schoon and 51-year-old Engelsbel, from the Amsterdam area, admitted their parts in the plot, with Schoon receiving 24 years and 18 years for Engelsbel.

A two-week trial was told that the conspiracy saw drugs brought into the UK, concealed behind secret riveted panels in the ambulances, which carried fake patients on crutches.

The smuggling ring was discovered when one of the ambulances was seized in an intelligence-led swoop by the National Crime Agency near a scrapyard in Smethwick back in June.

Cocaine with a street value of more than £30 million, and 74kg of heroin worth £8 million in individual deals, was found inside the vehicle.

Further enquiries revealed that at least 45 trips by converted ambulances to locations across England may have seen £420 million in high-purity drugs smuggled into the UK, with an estimated street value of four times that amount.