A man and woman who “played their part in a criminal enterprise” to smuggle cocaine with a street value of £1.75m into the UK have been jailed.
Michael Williams, 37, and Jessica Waldron, 36, planned to hand over the 22kg haul during a “rendezvous” near Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport after arriving from Colombia on 14 December 2019.
But unbeknown to them, Colombian authorities had intercepted the drugs and replaced them with wooden blocks before the plane took off. The UK’s National Crime Agency had also been alerted.
Isleworth Crown Court was told how the pair had arranged to leave the cocaine, hidden in two bags, in airport toilets after arriving in the UK.
Parts of the handover were planned through the encrypted messaging platform EncroChat, on which they were instructed to pose as a couple by dressing in specific clothing for identification purposes and by holding hands on arrival.
They were seen following a third person into the toilets with their bags and exiting without them, the court was told.
Williams and Waldron were arrested by Border Force and pleaded guilty to being concerned with the fraudulent evasion of a prohibition on the importation of a class A drug two days later.
The pair, both of Holly Hall, Dudley, were each sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.
Prosecutor John Ojakovoh said: “The defendants were two couriers who were recruited into and played their part in a criminal enterprise to import 22 kilograms of cocaine into the United Kingdom from Colombia.”
Detailing the attempted handover, he said: “There was a rendezvous. They followed (the third person) to the toilet area, having deviated from what had been the natural route for arrivals, and then they were seen going in with holdalls containing the blocks.
“They came out without the holdalls.”
The prosecutor said Waldron acted as the “lead” courier after getting a message from a contact on 9 November 2019.
Tom Blackburn, representing the defendants, said they had a smaller role in a wider enterprise and were “following orders” from more senior players.
He added Waldron and Williams were class A drug users at the time of the offence and motivated in part by a desire to fund their addictions.
Read more on Sky News:
‘Extremely worrying’ increase in the number of young people taking drugs
Drugs worth £1bn found hidden in marble tiles in Australia’s biggest meth bust
Colombian cocaine worth £40m smuggled with batch of bananas on Thames port
They have since kicked their habits and made efforts to reform themselves while in prison, he said.
Passing sentence, Recorder Christopher Stone said he had taken into account the “significant quantity of drugs” concerned but said both defendants appeared to have “changed for the better” while behind bars.