1.6 tonne cocaine hidden inside charcoal seized at London Gateway

A major National Crime Agency operation against a suspected organised crime group that imported around 1.6 tonnes of cocaine into the UK has resulted in two arrests.

The drugs were found on 8 June when Border Force officers, who were working with the NCA, searched a container carrying 800 sacks of charcoal that arrived into London Gateway port on a ship from Panama.

The NCA believe the cocaine had been disguised as charcoal using a sophisticated chemical method, meaning a laboratory process would have been required to retrieve it.

It is thought to be the first time cocaine concealed in this manner has been encountered in the UK.

The drugs would have had a street-level value of in excess of £120 million.

Yesterday [15 June] officers from the NCA’s Armed Operations Unit, supported by armed units from Leicestershire Police, carried out a controlled delivery and raided two farm properties in Whitwick, Coalville, and Shepshed.

It came after the men, a 50-year-old from Coalville and a 31-year-old from Nottingham, were arrested at a location in Coalville town centre.

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At the address in Coalville two self-loading pistols and a self-loading rifle were also recovered. They are now being forensically examined.

All of those arrested were detained on suspicion of importing class A drugs and are now being questioned. Searches are continuing.

NCA Regional Head of Operations Jacque Beer said: “The NCA focuses on the organised crime groups presenting the most significant threat to the UK, and this includes those involved in the international trafficking of class A drugs.

“This operation has prevented a huge amount of cocaine from making it on to the streets, where it would have generated criminal profit and fuelled further violence and exploitation.

“I’m grateful to Border Force, Leicestershire Police and partners from the Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service and East Midlands Ambulance Service for the support they have provided to our ongoing operation and investigation.”

Claudia Johnstone, Border Force Thames Command Assistant Director, said: “With thanks to the joint efforts of the NCA, Leicestershire Police and Border Force, over £120 million worth of cocaine has been prevented from plaguing UK streets.”

“We remain committed to working round the clock to intercept drug supply chains and will continue to work closely with our counterparts to identify and prevent the new methods criminals take to smuggling illegal drugs.”

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