Police smash drug-smuggling ring
THREE people have been jailed for more than 14 years after being involved in a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into Britain from the Caribbean.
Hamza Bilal, Adele Hughes and Shelley Ballard are behind bars after their plot was smashed by customs officers.
They were rumbled after investigators seized a wooden pallet containing eight clay pots at Gatwick Airport in February last year, which had arrived onboard a flight from St Lucia.
Rebecca Wade, prosecuting, told Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court yesterday: "Customs officials inspected the wooden blocks at the bottom of the pallet and found there were additional pieces of wood attached.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
"The blocks were removed and were found to have been hollowed out, and each one had a package containing white powder inside."
The packages were sent away for tests and three of them were found to have a total of 465 grams of cocaine hydrochloride inside, with a purity of 14 per cent.
The fourth package had 232 grams of crack cocaine inside, with a purity of 10 per cent, taking the total amount of drugs seized to 697 grams.
In total, the estimated street value of the class A substances was almost £37,000.
The court heard Bilal, aged 31, of Birmingham, was at the 'heart' of the operation.
He was in a relationship with Ballard, aged 27, of Furnace Road, Longton, who in turn recruited 46-year-old Hughes, who also lives in Furnace Road, into the conspiracy.
Hughes collected the consignment from Gatwick Airport, while Ballard collected money on Bilal's behalf. But Hughes was followed from the airport to Bilal's Birmingham home where the mother-of-one was arrested.
Two months later, search warrants were executed at addresses in Rothesay Court, Normacot, and in the West Midlands where officers arrested Bilal and Ballard.
Bilal, who has 11 convictions for nine offences, pleaded guilty to conspiring to evade the prohibition of the importation of a class A drug.
Ballard, who has four convictions for 20 offences and Hughes, who had no previous convictions or cautions, were both found guilty of the same offence following a trial.
Sharon Bailey, mitigating for Bilal, said: "He accepts he was an organiser of the operation.
"He is someone who positively thrives on work but descends into criminality when he cannot find any."
Alison Downs, mitigating for Hughes, said: "She was picked up because she was vulnerable and naive. Her reason for getting involved was because she was offered £50 and wanted to get her son some new trainers."
Eugene Hickey, mitigating for Ballard, said: "She was vulnerable at the time and fell under the spell of her co-defendant."
Judge Paul Glenn jailed Bilal for seven years, Ballard for five years and Hughes for two-and-a-half years.
Following yesterday's sentence,
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Clews, head of Staffordshire Police's Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: "These sentences send out a strong message to those who would engage in the importation of illegal drugs that their actions will have very serious consequences."