A man allowed heroin with a street value of almost £1.5 million to be shipped from Pakistan to his home address hidden inside Minion balloons, gardening gloves and other items. 

Akhlaq Muhammad was complicit in the major drugs importation network but claims he was exploited by others, despite being paid £2,000 for his trouble.

The 43-year-old said he had no awareness of the scale of the operation, and only agreed to receive the parcels as threats had been made to his family.

Preston Crown Court heard how Muhammad became involved in the importation in February 2021.

Between that date and September 2022, 11 separate packages were sent to addresses linked to the defendant, including addresses in Canterbury Street and Whitebirk Road, Blackburn.

Lancashire Telegraph: Akhlaq Muhammad Akhlaq Muhammad (Image: Lancs Police)

Further parcels were sent to an address in Birmingham, with Muhammad travelling to the city to retrieve the consignments.

Different spellings of Muhammad’s name were used on each of the parcels.

The court was told that in February 2021, 41kg of heroin was shipped to the Canterbury Street address.

Then in March 2021, law enforcement officers in Karachi detected 700g of heroin contained within a 1.1kg parcel of plastic bags, also destined for Canterbury Street.

The following month, German officials stopped a package containing coffee machines and found 5kg of heroin within - this was addressed to an alias of the defendant.

Lancashire Telegraph: One of the balloonsOne of the balloons (Image: Lancs Police)

In June 2021, Pakistan officials intercepted a parcel of envelopes and found it to contain 200g of heroin, address to an ‘Ikhlaq Muhammad’.

And then in October 2021 a DHL consignment, labelled ‘gift pack kitchenware’ was intercepted, which also contained heroin.

The court heard how in April 2022 the defendant travelled to Birmingham to receive more parcels, although some of them were stopped at Birmingham Airport, including one which had heroin concealed in garments.

Later in April, a shipment of gardening gloves destined for the defendant’s Whitebirk Road address was intercepted, and found in it was 1.13kg of heroin hidden within 33 of the pairs of gloves.

Lancashire Telegraph: Gardening glovesGardening gloves (Image: Lancs Police)

On April 30, a further 900g of heroin was discovered in another package containing gardening gloves.

A carpet weighing 11.92kg was stopped on its way to Birmingham in June, with heroin sewn into the fabric, although the amount of heroin in this case was not able to be quantified.

Later, in September, a UPS parcel containing balloons was stopped at East Midlands Airport, and within the balloons were plastic gloves, with each glove found to contain heroin.

A similar parcel was intercepted two days later, with 23 of the balloons found to contain plastic gloves and each of those plastic gloves contained heroin.

The total amount of heroin seized from all the consignments was 11.239kg with a wholesale value of 1kg being around £18,000, although the wholesale amount in Pakistan for 1kg was markedly cheaper, at £2,000.

In the UK, that equated to a wholesale value of around £198,000.

The court heard that if the 11.239kg of heroin has been broken down into £10 street deals this would have equated to £749,260.

Lancashire Telegraph: The gloves inside the balloonsThe gloves inside the balloons (Image: Lancs Police)

However, the heroin was of 70 per cent purity, much higher than the purity level found on the UK streets, so when mixed with a bulking agent would have doubled the amount, bringing the total street value of the heroin to 22.47kg and £1,498,520.

Muhammad, of Whitebirk Road, Blackburn, pleaded guilty to being concerned in fraudulently evading a prohibition on the importation of a class A drug and was jailed for six years.

DCI Tom Edmondson, of Lancashire Police's East Division, said: “Muhammad thought he was a criminal mastermind and could outsmart the authorities by importing large amounts of heroin hidden in balloons and other items.

"Thanks to the hard work and diligence of the investigation team, we have managed to put a pin in Muhammad’s sophisticated criminal network.

“I welcome the sentence handed down by the court and I hope it sends out a clear message to any organised crime network that East Lancashire is not a safe place to operate.

"We will identify you, we will uncover the evidence against you and we will put you before the courts.”