Seventeen members of a drug trafficking gang which imported huge quantities of cannabis into the UK from Spain and Holland have been handed jail terms totalling 102 years.
The Birmingham-based gang, the final member of which was dealt with in court yesterday, is thought to have smuggled £25 million worth of cannabis into the UK before being broken up by a National Crime Squad operation.
Reporting restrictions had been imposed on a string of hearings involving the 17 men, who were linked to the drugs ring by an NCS surveillance operation which began in May
2002. Detective Chief Inspector Mark Smith, speaking outside court, said the gang had run their drugs operation like a "normal business" with a system of management, storage of goods, transportation and cash handling.
"The gang members, who had different roles and responsibilities, went to great lengths to avoid police interest," he said.
"They used code words when speaking to each other, changed their mobile phones regularly and held clandestine meetings in remote areas."
The operation to dismantle the drug trafficking network began in May 2002 after the NCS received intelligence that large amounts of cannabis were being smuggled into the United Kingdom from Africa, via Spain and Holland.
The gang's leaders were identified as being Mark Liscott, (45), of Thetford Road, Great Barr, Birmingham, and Nicholas Goodall, (44) of Johns Grove, Great Barr.
Liscott and Goodall arranged the movement of the cannabis into the country and used couriers to distribute the drugs across the Midlands.
The pair were arrested at their homes in July 2003 during a series of raids.
During searches detectives seized around £100,000, a cash counting machine, over 100 bars of cannabis resin, two kilos of cannabis bush, electronic scales, three separate hydroponics systems, more than 50 mobile phones, and five vehicles.
Officers seized 120 kilos of cannabis, concealed within a consignment of oranges, on a Spanish lorry in Bedworth.
Mr Smith added: "We have dismantled a well-established network involved in the large-scale supply of cannabis and are now actively seeking to recover financial assets. These criminals have paid the heavy price of their freedom for thinking they could make easy money through drugs."