FOUR Sheffield men who were part of a ‘sophisticated’ plot to import £200,000 of heroin sewn into carpets and flown into the UK from Pakistan have been locked up for a total of 26 years.
Ben Birbeck, aged 31, took a ‘leading role’ and used his management skills to set up and organise the UK end of the operation.
Michael Plant, 29, had a ‘significant role’ while Darren Russell, 32, and Darren Gilberthorpe, 38, had ‘lesser but important roles’ and were paid £100 each for their involvement, said Judge Robert Moore.
He said: “For reasons that were different for each of you, you allowed yourselves to be part of a very sophisticated importation of reasonably high purity heroin from Pakistan, via Abu Dabi into the UK sewn into rolls of carpet.
“It seems to me the crime you all committed was the same and only immediate custodial sentences can be justified.”
Gerald Hendron, prosecuting at Sheffield Crown Court, said the men were caught after customs officers at Manchester Airport found the class A drug when checking the carpets.
He said: “Customs officers examined the consignment along with Border Agency officers and a dog handler.
“It consisted of seven hessian rolls. They spiked one of the carpets and some brown powder fell out.
“They found straws running through the length of the carpets wrapped in black material and woven into them.”
South Yorkshire Police seized the carpets bound for Darren Russell’s home address in Dinnington and they were forensically examined.
One had 700 tubes of drugs woven into it.
The total haul was 3.95kg of heroin - which had an estimated street value of £195,700, Mr Hendron said.
A police surveillance operation was set up and Russell was informed the carpets had been cleared by customs and were ready for collection from Manchester Airport.
On April 4 Russell and Plant set off to collect them in a hired van, followed by police in unmarked cars.
The van arrived back at Russell’s home in Dinnington, and a second van, driven by Birbeck pulled up.
Mr Hendon said the men became aware they were being watched and Plant and Russell sped off and were followed and arrested.
Gilberthorpe was followed to North Anston where he was arrested and Birbeck, who had been in telephone contact with an unknown person at the top of the chain, was arrested in June.
All four pleaded guilty to conspiring to import class A drugs.
Birbeck, of Leopold Street, Plant, of Park Avenue, and Russell, of Plantation Port, all Dinnington, were jailed for 11, six-and-a-half and four years three months, respectively.
Gilberthorpe, of Zamor Crescent, Thurcroft, was locked up for five years.
The judge praised South Yorkshire Police officers Det Insp Richard Shimwell, Det Sgt Keith Evans and Det Con Gary Hayes for ‘putting the case together and bringing it to a successful conclusion’.