Three members of an organised crime group have been convicted of smuggling Class A and B drugs from Jamaica to the UK via Gatwick Airport.

The drugs were concealed in sweet potatoes deliveries.

The conviction comes after a lengthy operation by the National Crime Agency dating back to October 2018.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police, who were working with the NCA, seized nearly 35 kilograms of cannabis from a car in Hackney.

The drugs were in sealed packages inside cardboard boxes used for transporting sweet potatoes.

Kashif Mushtaq, aged 38, of Romford, was arrested in connection to the seizure.

Upon further enquiries and searches of his home and business, Mushtaq was found to have links to Jamaica.

In January 2019, 94 packages containing cocaine and cannabis were found in another load of sweet potatoes on a flight that had arrived at Gatwick Airport from Kingston, Jamaica.

Both drug seizures weighed a total of 85.5 kilograms and would have been worth more than £3.5 million if sold on the streets of the UK.

Investigating officers traced the drugs to an industrial estate in Hayes, where boxes were seen being sorted.

The 41-year-old from East Ham tried to run away before officers caught up with him.

A third man, Sarbjit Chumber, aged 48, of Hounslow, was arrested minutes later at Spitalfields Market after being in phone contact with the gang.

Analysis of messages between the men led back to Mushtaq, who following his arrest in 2018, had been released under investigation.

Mushtaq was suspected of also playing a leading role in the operation even though he was in Pakistan at the time the drugs were seized.

After returning to the UK, he was subsequently arrested.

At Southwark Crown Court, Mushtaq, Ur Rehman and Chumber were found guilty of drug smuggling offences in relation to the January 2019 shipment. A fourth man was cleared.

Mushtaq and two other men were found not guilty of involvement in the October 2018 seizure.

Jon Eatwell, lead officer from the NCA’s Anti-Corruption Unit, said:

“This crime group were well organised and established a system that enabled them to smuggle drugs into the UK through legitimate services, where every man had his role in the conspiracy.

“The drugs they trafficked would have been sold across London and could have fuelled further crime and violence.

“Working with partners, we are determined to relentlessly pursue organised crime groups involved in the importation and supply of drugs.”