Jury set to consider £1.6bn 'ambulance drug smuggling' trial verdicts


A jury hearing the case of two men charged in connection with a £1.6 billion conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the UK using fake Dutch ambulances will start considering its verdicts later.

Prosecutors allege "right-hand man" Leonardus Bijlsma and ambulance driver Dennis Vogelaar, both of Amsterdam, were co-conspirators in a bid to bring "top quality" class A drugs into the country under the noses of British police.

The Crown have accused the men of being part of an audacious but "lucrative criminal conspiracy", which boasted bogus paramedic uniforms and sometimes even fake patients on crutches, all designed as a "veneer" to throw off suspicion.

The men were among a group of four people arrested near a scrapyard in Smethwick, West Midlands, in June.

An ambulance driven by Vogelaar and seized at the scene was found "rammed" to the roof with cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, according to the Crown.

When officers from the National Crime Agency broke open the rear of the vehicle they found seven hides concealed behind riveted metal plates into which were neatly stacked and wrapped hundreds of packets of drugs.

In all there was 193kg (425lb) of cocaine with a street value of more than £30 million, and 74kg (163lb) of heroin worth £8 million in individual deals.

Officers also found thousands of ecstasy tablets and 2kg (4.4lb) of MDMA crystal powder.

Opening the case, Robert Davies, prosecuting, detailed how Dutch authorities tipped off by British colleagues uncovered "a fleet" of similarly adapted ambulances back at a yard in the Netherlands.

Further analysis revealed that between all the vehicles, at least 45 trips were made in 14 months to locations in Essex, London, Manchester, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and the Midlands, with the final trip in June.

It is estimated that the operation may have seen £420 million in high-purity drugs smuggled into the UK, with an estimated street value worth four times that amount.

Both Bijlsma, aged 55, of Hoofddorp, and 28-year-old Vogelaar, of Vijfhuizen, Haarlem, have denied the charges throughout a two-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

Father-of-four Bijlsma has accepted making 16 trips to the UK but said he was kept in the dark about the true purpose of the visits, alleging he was nothing more than a "handyman" scouting the UK for scrap cars.

Vogelaar, who made two trips and is a qualified HGV driver, has claimed he thought the private ambulance company was a legitimate operation.

The jury were told at the start of the case that two other Duthchmen, Olof Schoon, who is said by the Crown to be the conspiracy's "central player" and Richard Engelsbel, have already admitted the conspiracy charge.

Judge Francis Laird QC is expected to send the jury out later.