Six men have been sentenced to over 94 years in prison for their part in handling class A drugs smuggled into the UK using a fleet of fake Dutch ambulances. Most of the men worked as couriers for James Gibson, 57, a drug dealer who had connections to criminal gangs in Holland.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) used mobile data analysis and CCTV footage to link him to several deliveries after discovering the word ‘Gibbo’ written on a list of 20 names found in an ambulance they had under surveillance that was “rammed” full of drugs.

When they first made arrests in June 2015, police found cocaine, heroin, MDMA and 22,000 ecstasy tablets hidden behind panels in the vehicle and stuffed under floorboards.

It had a potential street value of over £38m.

Rob Lewin, NCA’s head of specialist operations, said: “The team were able to thoroughly investigate and use the communication data to place the distribution team alongside the ambulances.”

Gibson employed couriers to pick-up boxes of drugs from the bogus ambulances which were being used to move substantial quantities. The charade itself even included fake paramedics and patients.

“They are a very sophisticated, complex organised crime group … bogus patients were being repatriated between Holland and England, they used this so they could get through controls”, said Mr Lewin.

The NCA found at least 45 trips were made over the space of 14 months. It estimates around 4.5 tonnes of heroin and cocaine were smuggled into Britain, worth in the region of £1.5bn.

Gibson was sentenced to 20 years for his part in the scheme.