Three men have been jailed for a total of 40 years after being convicted of using a removal firm as a front for an international drug smuggling conspiracy.

Mark Youell, 64, from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, was recorded telling Alfred Rumbold, 65, from Orpington, Kent, and 73-year-old removal driver Brian Wright “We’re gonna hit the jackpot”, while plotting to import 55kg of class A drugs with a street value of £4.5 million inside fish tanks.

In a series of recordings made by the National Crime Agency (NCA), Youell also told the men that they were going to make “f****** mega dough” with the scheme.

Smugglers convicted
The men are seen meeting at a cafe (National Crime Agency/PA)

According to the NCA, Wright, from Folkestone, Kent, did a “dummy run” by driving to the Netherlands before carrying out the real plan the following week.

But Wright was arrested after being found sleeping inside his lorry just outside Utrecht. Youell and Rumbold were arrested at their home addresses.

A total of 20.5 kilos of heroin, 32 kilos of cocaine and three kilos of MDMA, which combined would have had a UK street value of about £4.5 million, were sealed in fish tanks and found by Dutch police following a joint investigation with the NCA.

Mobile phones seized by police found messages, which the NCA has attributed to Rumbold, in which he spoke with other criminals about the potential of moving the drugs across Europe using Wright’s firm.

At trial, both Youell and Rumbold denied drug importation charges, claiming they had only been seeking to smuggle alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco and cannabis.

Smugglers convicted
The removal lorry which was raided as part of the sting operation (National Crime Agency/PA)

Meanwhile Wright, who was extradited to the UK from the Netherlands, denied any knowledge of the drugs, claiming he was just transporting furniture.

All three were found guilty of conspiring to import class A drugs on November 19 following a trial at Isleworth Crown Court.

On Friday, a judge sentenced Youell and Rumbold to 14 years each in prison, while Wright was given a 12 year sentence, the NCA said.

NCA regional head of investigations Peter Stevens said: “The sentences handed out today demonstrates just how seriously UK courts take drug trafficking offences and I welcome them.

“The class A drugs seized in this investigation would all have ended up in the hands of UK criminal gangs involved in violence and exploitation, and provided a big payday for Youell, Rumbold and Wright.

“By their own admission they thought they had ‘hit the jackpot’.

“But they weren’t counting on the tenacity and expertise of the NCA officers who, supported by our Dutch partners, watched their every move – even during the height of the UK’s Covid lockdown.

“I hope others involved in this type of activity take notice – we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the organised criminal networks involved in international drugs supply.”