Father-of-three Andrew Barrett, 41, of High Street, and co-defendants Michael Mealing and Jonathon Hart plotted possible landing and drop-off sites in Kent on a map and carried out recce of a location, unaware they were under surveillance by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
On June 23 last year, investigators watched as a light aircraft flew low over one of the sites, a secluded field a few miles from Faversham, Kent.
Mealing and Hart then drove from the location in a Land Rover. They were followed to a builders yard in Faversham where NCA officers moved in to arrest them.
Officers found three large fuel containers, packaged with tape capable of withstanding a drop from air, in the boot of the vehicle.
A total of 31 kilos of high-purity cocaine was recovered from the containers, with a wholesale value to organised crime of just over £1 million. If cut and sold on the street it could have been worth more than £2.5 million.
Barrett was seen at an address in Watford in a white van shortly afterwards, he was also arrested.
Officers found a holdall containing a further 18 kilos of cocaine, one kilo of MDMA and 15 kilos of cannabis in the back of the van.
The stash had a combined wholesale value of around £650,000, but if sold on the streets it could have been worth more than £1.5 million.
All three men later pleaded guilty to importing cocaine, while Barrett also admitted possessing class A and B drugs with intent to supply and money laundering.
On Friday, January 6, at the Old Bailey, Barrett was sentenced to 16 years in prison, Mealing was given 12 and a half years, and Hart ten years and nine months.
Steve McIntyre, from the NCA’s Border Policing Command said: “Cocaine is a commodity that has direct association to organised crime groups notorious for highly aggressive crime.
“The distribution networks involved are often also linked to firearms, knife crime, exploitation of young and vulnerable people, and criminal gang culture.
“These men occupied a place at the start of that chain of harm.
“They attempted to exploit perceived weaknesses in border controls, but working with the police and Border Force we are actively targeting criminals who try to use general aviation and small airfields as a way into the UK.
“Our investigation into others who may have been involved continues.”
Dan Scully, Head of Border Force Intelligence Operations said: “These convictions highlight how law enforcement is working together effectively to secure our borders.
“In this case, a specialist Border Force intelligence team identified a suspicious pattern of activity and worked closely with NCA officers to ensure they were in place to make arrests. In the process, a large amount of dangerous drugs were kept off the UK’s streets.”