bananas | 

Massive haul of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine discovered hidden inside shipment of fruit

'We know that criminal gangs target insiders within ports and airport for their knowledge and access'
Part of the haul that was discovered in the shipment of bananas

Part of the haul that was discovered in the shipment of bananas

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

A massive haul of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than £90 million has been discovered hidden inside a shipment of bananas that arrived on a boat from Costa Rica.

British investigators say a suspected organised crime group is alleged to have used an “insider” to smuggle significant amounts of class A into the UK drugs market through Sheerness port in Kent.

A major National Crime Agency-led operation saw a cordon being put around the port in the early hours of yesterday morning (December 20) involving more than one 100 officers - including the NCA’s Armed Operations Unit and specialist firearms teams from Kent Police – who moved in to carry out the strike.

The operation resulted in a 27-year-old man who worked as a security guard at the port being arrested alongside five others.

A seventh man was detained at his home in Hertfordshire. A number of properties were also searched following the arrests.

After being questioned by NCA investigators all seven were charged with conspiring to import class A drugs last night and were expected to appear before Medway Magistrates later today (Tuesday, December 21).

The investigation was supported by Border Force and carried out with the co-operation of the port operator.

The NCA said “insider threat” or “corrupt enablers” are a priority for them.

“Selling knowledge of systems or allowing access to restricted areas allows OCGs (organised crime gangs) to smuggle illicit commodities such as firearms or drugs, or the movement of vulnerable people and children through organised immigration crime,” they said.

“The investigation continues and anyone with information or suspicions about this type of activity is urged to contact Crimestoppers anonymously or the police via 101.

NCA Regional Head of Investigation Jacque Beer added: “Our investigation has focused on what we believe to be a dangerous group intent on importing large amounts of drugs to the UK, using insider contacts within the port.

“We know that criminal gangs target insiders within ports and airport for their knowledge and access.

“While it is rare, when it happens it represents a disproportionately large threat, which is why it is such a focus for the NCA.

“We believe this activity has thwarted those intentions and led to the dismantling of the network involved.

“This was a major operation involving a large number of law enforcement officers from the NCA, our Kent Police colleagues and Border Force, who I’d like to thank for their assistance, as well as the port operator.

“Working together we are determined to do all we can to protect the security and integrity of the UK border.”

Minister for Security and Borders Damian Hinds said the seizure prevented a significant amount of dangerous drugs from ending up on our streets, “which not only reduces the harm they cause to communities but also makes a huge dent in the profits of smugglers”.

“Joint working, including intelligence sharing, between our Border Force officers, the NCA and wider law enforcement partners is essential to preventing drug trafficking like this.”

In July the NCA issued a nationwide alert that furloughed port and airport workers might be vulnerable to crime gangs trying to exploit the coronavirus crisis.

The NCA say investigations and intelligence have identified examples of organised gangs targeting those working at ports and airports, parcel hubs and delivery centres.

The Agency’s 2021 National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime stated that gang efforts to establish new insider contacts are likely to increase as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic.

They also warned that the gangs may approach workers in person, online or posing as recruiters or on some other legitimate pretext.

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