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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 20:51 GMT


Drugs traffickers in a jam

The bungling drug smugglers caused a huge traffic jam at the Blackwall Tunnel

Crime Correspondent Stephen Cape reports on the gang's farcical capture
A top international drugs smuggler, who came unstuck when his heroin-packed lorry got wedged in the Blackwall Tunnel in London, has been jailed for 18 years.

Hamid Shamsollahi's failure to check the height of the tunnel - which was too low for his juggernaut - gave Customs & Excise a 7.28m haul and left London drivers in one of the biggest traffic jams in recent years.

[ image: Hamid Shamsollahi...jailed for 18 years]
Hamid Shamsollahi...jailed for 18 years
When the specially-converted lorry got stuck in the entrance to the tunnel under the Thames Customs men swooped on the gang, who they had been following.

Shamsollahi, a 38-year-old Amsterdam-based businessman and another gang member, who were travelling in a separate car, were arrested when they arrived to see what had happened to their accomplice.

Shamsollahi was jailed for 18 years, lorry driver Mustafa Karinca, 50, was given a 14-year sentence, and "fetcher and carrier" Korkut Eris, 40, was given a nine-year term.

Judge David Elfer QC told Shamsollahi he was clearly a "senior member" of the Turkish/Dutch gang behind last February's smuggling operation.

'No mercy'

[ image: Mustafa Karinca...jailed for 14 years]
Mustafa Karinca...jailed for 14 years
He said: "If you engage in this form of smuggling at whatever level you, in your turn, must expect no mercy from the courts of this country.

"Rather there must go out a message to all those who would follow your example of what is to be expected if you are caught."

The gang's meticulous planning initially paid off, the five-week trial at Southwark Crown Court heard.

The articulated lorry had been fitted with a false fuel tank, inside which was a secret compartment used to hide the 65.84kg consignment Karinca is believed to have collected close to his Turkish home.

It was so well installed, customs men at Dover failed to detect anything when Karinca arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.


But Custom & Excise's National Investigation Service had been tipped off about the gang's activities.

The following day a plain-clothed team tailed Iranian-born Shamsollahi and Turkish-born political refugee Eris, a minicab driver from Holloway in north London, as they met Karinca.

The operation came to an abrupt end when the lorry got stuck in the 14ft 3in high Blackwall Tunnel.

Customs men following the lorry promptly moved in and arrested the gang.

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