Two coach company bosses imported £3m worth of heroin on a trip bus from Europe full of unsuspecting holidaymakers.
Brothers Glen, 45, and Gary Wheatley, 51, who operated G and G Travel firm in Hetton, hid 12 kilos of high-grade heroin in a “very sophisticated” chamber they had had built into one of their coaches.
The illegal haul was found by customs officers at Dover in December 2011 when the older brother was bringing a bus full of passengers back from their trip to Belgium.
He was arrested at the British port, while his brother went on the run to Holland – where he was accused of attempted murder – before he was extradited to the UK on a European arrest warrant last year.
An innocent pensioner, who had organised the trip through the firm, ended up arrested and put in custody before it was realised he was not involved in the drugs imporation.
At Newcastle Crown Court yesterday, Glen Wheatley, of Bowes Lyon’s Avenue, Easington Lane, Houghton le Spring, was jailed for 12 and a half years.
Gary Wheatley, of Station Avenue, Fencehouses, Houghton-le-Spring, was jailed for six years.
Both brothers had admitted conspiracy to contravene prohibition on the importation of Class A drugs.
Mr Recorder William Lowe QC told them: “This was a sophisticated operation, it involved adapting the coach which was sent on this trip.
“The adaption involved boxing off part of the bulkhead, a special wall fitting, screws, and it was carpeted over so any search would not reveal the compartment.
“There was nearly 12 kilos of heroin loaded into that.
“In doing that, you both played for high stakes.
“This was a sophisticated conspiracy, it involved high purity drugs.”
The court heard the coach had been booked by a retired driver who had organised a trip to Ostend for a group of holidaymakers.
Gary Wheatley drove the double-decker coach and passengers to Europe, where he met up with his brother, who had travelled there in his Mercedes.
While the coach party enjoyed their overnight stay on the continent, the Wheatley brothers packed the illegal haul into the hidden compartment.
Gary Wheatley then picked up the passengers and took them back to the UK, but the drugs were found when the coach was stopped and searched by Border Agency staff.
Prosecutor Andrew Dallas told the court the drugs haul was found in a boxed off part of the bulkhead, surrounding the wheel arch, which had been erected using specially fabricated metal, held in place by screws and covered in carpet to match what was already in the coach.
Mr Dallas added; “It could have sold on the streets in individual deals for between £2m and £3m.”
The court heard when Glen Wheatley, who has previous convictions involving drugs, heard his brother had been caught he went on the run to Holland, where he was later arrested leaving the scene of an alleged robbery, driving the wrong way up a busy motorway.
He was charged with attempted murder, and eventually convicted of motoring charges and spent time in a Dutch jail awaiting the outcome of an appeal of that conviction.
He was then extradited back to the UK and admitted the drugs charge, claiming he had been promised a £15,000 payment to import the drugs on behalf of a third party.
Paul Currer, defending, said the Wheatleys’ coach firm had been hit hard by the recession, resulting in secured loans and debt.
Both men denied knowing what type or amount of drugs would be involved.
The court heard Gary Wheatley was persuaded to take part in the scam by his brother and has never been in trouble before.
Bob Spragg, defending, said: “He was horrified by the amount of drugs that were put in and by the type of that drug.
“He should have asked questions and he didn’t and he accepts he is going to pay for that.”
The court heard the coach business has now collapsed.