Two men involved in a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine worth millions of pounds into the UK using luggage handlers at Gatwick airport have been jailed.

Tyrone Gordon was sentenced to 26 years and Ryan Steadman to 20 years at Woolwich Crown Court on Monday, for a scam where couriers would carry cocaine in suitcases from Brazil via Madrid to the UK on Air Europa flights.

When the passengers arrived in Gatwick they would leave without collecting their checked in luggage, so the gang could take the suitcase and smuggle it out of the airport.

The network had connections with corrupt luggage handlers who would take the luggage off site without being checked because they were airport employees.

Judge Christopher Grout estimated that the gang had been involved in smuggling more than 50kg of cocaine with a street value of up to £5.2 million between February 2020 and November 2021.

Using encrypted Encrochat handsets, they also tried to make plans to import heroin using corrupt DHL parcel couriers when the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted their cocaine scheme, but this never came to fruition.

They were found guilty last week after a nine-week trial of conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to import heroin.

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Gordon, 40, from Crawley, was also sentenced for possession with intent to supply cocaine and offering to supply the drug.

Passing sentence, the judge said: “The plan was audacious but successful, albeit not as successful as you would have liked.”

Gordon was at the top of the network and had connections in South America, while Steadman, 39, from Lewisham, south-east London, was number two.

The judge said Gordon had two Rolex watches that he admitted had been bought with drug money.

A third man, Jack Williams, who was the connection to corrupt baggage handlers, previously admitted his role in the gang. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The judge told Gordon: “Class A drugs destroy lives and not just the lives of the people that use them and deal in them.

“The families of those people - your family - suffer as well.

“So too does the wider community that has to live with the side effects of drug misuse which includes related criminality - such as robbery and theft - which addicted users of such drugs often commit in order to fund their habits.

“You are responsible for contributing to this misery in a major way.”

Gordon was jailed for 26 years for conspiracy to import cocaine, and three other sentences to run concurrently: 26 years for conspiracy to import heroin, 14 years for possession with intent to supply cocaine, and nine years for offering to supply cocaine.

Judge Grout told father-of-five Steadman: “It is clear that you were heavily involved in organising the buying and selling of Class A drugs on a commercial scale.

 “I am driven to the conclusion that your high-level involvement of offending on this scale could only have been with the expectation of substantial financial advantage.”

Steadman was sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy to import cocaine, and 20 years for conspiracy to import heroin to run concurrently. Both men will serve half the sentences behind bars before being released on licence.