The National Crime Agency has brought an organised drugs gang to justice after they smuggled £1.2 million worth of heroin from Pakistan into the UK.

A total of 13 packages were seized at three UK airports containing a combined five kilos of high-purity heroin. They had concealed the drug within boxing gloves, equine dentistry tools, medical instruments, and motorcycle gloves.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) began an investigation after Border Force officers at Stansted Airport seized almost three kilos of heroin in June 2015 hidden in cobb elevators – a piece of surgical equipment for the spine.

Officers soon tracked down Sultan Mahmood Butt, aged 37, Nibeel Saghir, aged 34, Rizwan Ahmed, aged 34, who are all relatives from Pakistan now living in the UK, and Denise Ellis, aged 46, from Birmingham.

NCA officers identified that Luton-based Butt was the head of the crime group and was responsible for organising the importations from Pakistan. Saghir was the middleman who ensured the onward delivery of the drugs to various addresses in Luton and Birmingham, with assistance from Ahmed and Ellis.

Ahmed and Ellis were arrested in 2015 after a number of the intercepted packages were found to be destined for their home addresses. The packages were seized at Stansted, East Midlands and Heathrow airports, plus a parcel delivery depot.

Butt’s phone number was linked to the packages and he was also arrested. He had sent a WhatsApp message of a photo detailing the address for an impending importation that was subsequently intercepted at Heathrow.

Saghir was arrested in January 2016 after the analysis of phone records proved his involvement in the conspiracy. During one 13-minute period, on the date of an attempted drugs delivery, there were twelve calls between Butt and Saghir.

The NCA investigation proved that all four individuals involved in the operation were in contact with each other at key times around each importation. Most of their communication was on burner phones.

Following Ahmed’s arrest in June 2015 and after the second seizure of heroin at East Midlands Airport, Ellis sent a text to an unidentified number: “Txt me wen ready to pick up. Best collect it tonite then I can’t get blamed for anything.”

Yesterday (10/07) at Birmingham Crown Court, Saghir, Ahmed and Butt were all found guilty of importing heroin. They will be sentenced on 9 August, along with Ellis who pleaded guilty in September 2017.

Jonathan Temperley, from the NCA, said: “Drug trafficking doesn’t always happen in one big shipment. This group attempted to smuggle over £1 million worth of heroin little and often through the post, wrongly thinking they could avoid detection.

“Drug trafficking is a major source of revenue for crime groups, many of whom are involved in multiple crime types, such as modern slavery and people smuggling; adapting their methods to law enforcement responses.

“Working with Border Force and other partners we are committed to doing all we can to make sure drug smugglers are stopped and, ultimately, crime doesn’t pay.”