A man has been jailed for 20 years for smuggling class A drugs into the UK, including a load that was hidden within a shipment of children’s toys.

Chris Michaelides, 52, was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday after previously pleading guilty to a string of offences, the Metropolitan Police said.

Michaelides, who is from Essex, was arrested following a cross-agency operation which dismantled an encrypted communications system.

Messages from Michaelides showed he was in contact with others based in the UK, Holland and the Czech Republic and was involved in the importation of cocaine.

The Met said his conversations indicated that the criminal enterprises had been going on for around six years.

One arranged job involved a lorry carrying children’s playing bricks that was also loaded with 50kg of high purity cocaine for import into the UK and onward distribution in April 2020.

The vehicle was intercepted, at which point the criminals tried again, setting up a similar importation, believed to be 37kg of cocaine, in June, police said.

Michaelides, of Millwell Crescent, Chigwell, was arrested on July 1 and charged with conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of controlled drugs and conspiracy to supply a controlled drug.

He was also charged with possession of a number of illegal items, including a fraudulently obtained passport and a prohibited weapon.

Detective Inspector Lee Byne, from Specialist Crime, said: “Thanks to great partnership working, the evidence we were able to gather against Michaelides was so overwhelming that he had no choice but to plead guilty to the charges laid against him.

“Michaelides played an instrumental part in this criminal network, which had been importing huge quantities of class A drugs – hidden in innocent shipments, including children’s toys – for many years.

“The drugs he helped to import to the UK over those years no doubt devastated many lives and communities.

“The firearms and weapons we found at Michaelides’ house once again demonstrates the undeniable link between drugs and violence.

“This is why disrupting all routes of drug supply continues to be central to our work to tackle violence on London’s streets.”