MASSIVE HAUL: Nearly 1.3 tonnes of heroin found in the container (NCA)
INTERNATIONAL drug dealers have fallen victim to a National Crime Agency (NCA) sting for the second time in a month.
Investigators from the NCA, known as Britain's FBI, had intelligence a huge consignment of heroin was on board the container ship the MV Gibraltar, which was due to dock at the port of Felixstowe on August 30, before continuing onto Antwerp in Belgium.
Nearly 1.3 tonnes (1,297kgs) of the class A drug were recovered from the container ship, concealed among a cover load of towels and bathrobes, the largest haul of heroin ever made in the UK.
Heroin had been stitched inside towels and it took officers six hours to remove it.
An NCA spokesman said: "An iInternational investigation has resulted in the largest ever seizure of heroin in the UK, denying vast sums of money to organised crime groups.
"The record haul would be worth around £27 million to organised criminals at wholesale, and in excess of £120 million at street level, where it is typically supplied via county lines dealing."
SEARCH: NCA and Border Force officials continue the search (NCA)
After officers removed the drugs, they returned the container to the vessel, which continued on to Antwerp and docked in the Belgian port city on September 1.
Criminals were waiting in the belief they would pick up the drugs.
Under surveillance by Dutch and Belgian law enforcement agencies, the container was driven by lorry to a warehouse in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Upon arrival, officers moved in and arrested four people who were in the process of unloading the consignment.
It was an almost identical operation to an NCA and Border Force sting carried out on August 2 at Felixstowe.
Then, 398 kilograms of heroin was found in towels and bathrobes on a container vessel destined for Antwerp in Belgium.
The NCA had intelligence it was on its way and let it continue, where it was picked up and driven to Rotterdam, where two people were arrested.
SUCCESS: The earlier haul (NCA)
The NCA simultaneously arrested a man from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, in the UK.
Essex News and Investigations can reveal he was released on bail until later this month.
NCA Deputy Director, Investigations, Matt Horne, said: “This is a record heroin seizure in the UK and one of the largest ever in Europe. It will have denied organised crime tens of millions of pounds in profits, and is the result of a targeted, intelligence-led investigation, carried out by the NCA with international and UK partners.
“The size of this and other recent shipments demonstrate the scale of the threat we face. We can be certain that some of these drugs would eventually have been sold in the UK, fuelling high levels of violence and exploitation including what we see in county lines offending nationwide.
“The heroin trade also feeds addictions that put users’ lives at risk, while giving rise to crime such as theft which make people feel unsafe in their homes and communities.
PACKED: Drugs found on the container at Felixstowe on August 30 (NCA)
“NCA officers on the front line lead the fight against the serious and organised criminals who chase profits while dominating and intimidating communities. However, reducing UK demand for illegal commodities such as heroin requires a systematic response across multiple sectors, including health and social care, prisons and education.”
Jenny Sharp, Border Force Assistant Director at Felixstowe, said:
“This is a huge seizure – there is no other word for it given the quantities involved – which has kept dangerous drugs off the streets of the UK and mainland Europe. It speaks well of the effective work we do with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad and I’m extremely proud of all the officers involved.
“The smugglers had hidden the drugs within a coverload of towels, stitching the 1kg blocks of heroin inside some of the towels. In total it took my officers nearly six hours – working in the early hours of Saturday morning - to remove the drugs."