SMUGGLERS who plotted to use a removal firm as a front for moving £4.5 million of illicit drugs have been convicted.

Mark Youell, 64, of Shoreham Road, Clacton, conspired with Alfred Rumbold, 65, and removal driver Brian Wright, 73, to import around 55 kilos of class A drugs.

They were unaware that they were the subjects of a covert investigation by the National Crime Agency, with officers tracing their movements and recording their conversations.

In spring and summer 2020, the trio had a series of clandestine meetings with a Merseyside-based organised crime group, who wanted to import class A drugs utilising Wright’s legitimate removals company.

Covert listening devices picked up a conversation at a meeting at a café in Kent in July 2020, where they were heard discussing border controls.

Youell told Rumbold and Wright: “We’re gonna hit the jackpot” and said they were going to make “f***ing mega dough”.

The previous day Wright had returned from conducting a dummy run, taking his lorry out to the Netherlands.

He made a series of notes around border checks and security on his phone as he returned.

The following week Wright made the run for real, collecting the drugs, which had been sealed inside fish tanks.

Echo: The drugs seized from Wright's truckThe drugs seized from Wright's truck

However, as part of a joint operation with Dutch law enforcement, the truck was raided just outside Utrecht.

Wright, who was sleeping inside, was arrested.

The drugs were seized from their hiding place, with Dutch police recovering 20.5 kilos of heroin, 32 kilos of cocaine and three kilos of MDMA.

Experts say the haul would have had a UK street value of around £4.5 million.

At the same time NCA officers moved in on Youell and Rumbold, arresting them at their home addresses.

Phones seized included a number of Encrochat and Sky ECC encrypted devices.

Encrochat messages attributed to Rumbold by the NCA as part of Operation Venetic – the law enforcement takedown of the platform – showed that he was discussing with numerous criminals the potential to move drugs across Europe using Wright’s firm.

Echo: A meeting between Youell, Rumbold and Wright covertly recorded by the NCAA meeting between Youell, Rumbold and Wright covertly recorded by the NCA

Both Youell and Rumbold, of Orpington, Kent, denied drug importation charges, claiming they had only been seeking to smuggle alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco and cannabis.

Wright, of Folkestone, Kent, denied any knowledge of the drugs, claiming he was just transporting furniture.

Following a seven-week trial at Isleworth Crown Court, all three men were found guilty of conspiring to import class A drugs. They will be sentenced on November 26.

Peter Stevens, the NCA’s regional head of investigations, said: “This conspiracy involved a significant amount of drugs which were destined for the streets of the UK, where they would have been distributed by criminal gangs involved in violence and exploitation.

“Through the NCA’s covert investigation into their activities we were able to prove the crime group stood to make huge profits for themselves.

“This investigation also shows the benefit of international co-operation when it comes to stopping drug supply, which is a priority for the NCA.

“I’m grateful for the support of our Dutch partners in securing these convictions.”