Three gang members have been jailed for attempting to fly a hired helicopter under the radar to smuggle £12m of Class A drugs into the country.

Joseph Peel, 39, of Sutton Way, North Kensington was part of the three-man gang sentenced to a total of 52 years at Croydon Crown Court on Friday (September 9).

While Dutch pilot Niels Wartenbergh, 28, and passenger Ricardo Vorstenbosch, 27, of Netherlands, flew in the rented helicopter from Belgium to Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey on April 21, Peel was on the ground in a hired silver BMW.

But the gang did not know they were being tracked as part of a joint investigation between the National Crime Agency (NCA), Metropolitan Police , Border Force , and the Dutch and Belgian Authorities.

The pilot, who had been taking flying lessons in the UK, dropped under the radar to make an unscheduled stop in Yalding, Kent, to transfer the haul before continuing their journey.

Joseph Peel, 39, of Sutton Way, North Kensington sentenced to 16 years behind bars for importing class A drugs

NCA officers swooped in and arrested Wartenbergh and Vorstenbosch shortly after they landed at Redhill.

Meanwhile a police chase on the motorway led to the arrest of Peel on the M26.

Six holdalls from the boot recovered 43 kilos of cocaine and 60 kilos of heroin as well as 30 encrypted mobile phones.

Six holdalls containing class A drugs were recovered

Tracking data from the car hire company showed the BMW had been in the Yalding area at the same time as the helicopter.

On the same day, Dutch police carried out a search at the home of Vorstenbosch in Eindhoven where a further three kilos of cocaine, a drug press, vacuum packing machines and a firearm were seized.

NCA discovered Wartenbergh had been taking lessons to fly much larger aircraft.

All three men pleaded guilty to importing Class A drugs.

Peel was sentenced to 16 years behind bars while the other two men were handed an 18 year sentence each.

Dutch pilot Niels Wartenbergh, 28, jailed for 18 years

Gary Fennelly, head of NCA’s Gatwick border investigation team, said: “This organised crime group engaged the highly skilled services of a helicopter pilot to attempt to avoid border security by flying under the radar.

“In addition to recovering over 100 kilograms of class A drugs, the operation prevented crime on a much wider scale by denying the sale of drugs worth millions to the crime group, and preventing them from reinvesting the proceeds."

Passenger Ricardo Vorstenbosch, 27, from Netherlands jailed for 18 years

Detective Sergeant Neil Turner of the Met’s Special Projects Team said: “This operation highlights the successful disruption to both national and international crime networks that can be achieved when law enforcement agencies work in partnership.

“As a result of this collaboration a huge amount of Class A drugs will not be available for sale on London streets."

Sam Bullimore, Head of Cargo Targeting for Border Force added: “Border Force works tirelessly to identify and target suspicious activity in our skies. This is yet another example of our intelligence-led approach reaping significant rewards."


The helicopter used to fly drugs haul into the UK


Anyone with information about unusual activity can report it to their local police force on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.