Four members, including a British woman, of an organised crime group have been convicted of smuggling 1.2 million pounds worth of heroin from Pakistan into the UK via the post.
Sultan Mahmood Butt, 37, Nibeel Saghir, 34, Rizwan Ahmed, 34 -- all relatives from Pakistan living in the UK -- and Denise Ellis, 46, a woman from Birmingham were arrested by the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) after a lengthy investigation.
Saghir, Ahmed and Butt were all found guilty of importing heroin at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday and will be sentenced on August 9, along with Ellis who had already pleaded guilty in September 2017, the NCA said.
"Drug trafficking does not always happen in one big shipment. This group attempted to smuggle over 1 million pounds worth of heroin little and often through the post, wrongly thinking they could avoid detection," said Jonathan Temperley, from the NCA.
"Drug trafficking is a major source of revenue for crime groups, many of whom are involved in multiple crime types, such as modern slavery and human smuggling; adapting their methods to law enforcement responses. Working with Border Force and other partners we are committed to doing all we can to make sure drug smugglers are stopped and, ultimately, crime does not pay," he said.
A total of 13 packages were seized at three UK airports containing a total of five kilogramme of high-purity heroin concealed within boxing gloves, equine dentistry tools, medical instruments, and motorcycle gloves, the NCA said.
The NCA began investigating the four suspects after UK Border Force officers at Stansted Airport seized almost three kilogramme of heroin in June 2015 hidden in cobb elevators a piece of surgical equipment for the spine.
NCA officers identified that Luton-based Butt was the head of the group and responsible for organising the importations from Pakistan.
Saghir was the middleman who ensured the onward delivery of the drugs to various addresses in Luton and Birmingham, with assistance from Ahmed and Ellis.
Ahmed and Ellis were arrested in 2015 after a number of the intercepted packages were found to be destined for their home addresses.
The packages were seized at Stansted, East Midlands and Heathrow airports, plus a parcel delivery depot.
Butt's phone number was linked to the packages and he was also arrested.
He had sent a WhatsApp message of a photo detailing the address for an impending importation that was subsequently intercepted at Heathrow.
Saghir was arrested in January 2016 after the analysis of phone records proved his involvement in the conspiracy.
During one 13-minute period, on the date of an attempted drugs delivery, there were 12 calls between Butt and Saghir, it said.
The NCA investigation was able to establish that all four individuals involved in the operation were in contact with each other at key times around each importation, most of their communication being on burner phones.