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Fake ambulances drug-smuggling trio to be sentenced

Three Dutch men will be sentenced today for their roles in a £1.6 billion drug-smuggling plot involving a fleet of fake ambulances.

Olof Schoon, Leonardus Bijlsma and Richard Engelsbel were convicted earlier this year of being part of the 14-month conspiracy to sneak "staggering" amounts of heroin and cocaine into Britain.

The three, who are all facing lengthy prison terms, are due to be sentenced by Judge Francis Laird QC at Birmingham Crown Court.

Bijlsma, 55, from Hoofddorp near Amsterdam, was found guilty of involvement in the conspiracy, while Schoon, 38, and 51-year-old Engelsbel, both also from the Amsterdam area, admitted their parts in the plot.

A two-week trial was told the conspiracy saw drugs brought into the UK concealed behind secret riveted panels in the ambulances, which carried fake patients on crutches.

The smuggling ring was smashed when one of the ambulances was seized in an intelligence-led swoop by the National Crime Agency near a scrapyard in Smethwick, West Midlands, in June.

Cocaine with a street value of more than £30 million, and 74kg of heroin worth £8 million in individual deals, were found inside the vehicle.

Further inquiries revealed at least 45 trips by converted ambulances to locations around England may have seen £420 million in high-purity drugs smuggled into the UK - with an estimated street value of four times that amount.

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