A LORRY driver from York has been jailed for 14 years for attempting to smuggle more than £2.5 million of drugs into the UK hidden in a consignment of frozen spinach.

Peter Horton, 44, was caught with cocaine with a street value of £1.75 million to £2.5 million and heroin worth £700,000 to £900,000 hidden in packages under the frozen food. The father-of-three, of Springbank Avenue, Dunnington, pleaded guilty to two counts of importing Class A drugs.

Canterbury Crown Court heard how Horton – who had financial problems – had driven to a location in Belgium last June. He said he received a signal from a Mercedes which flashed its lights at him. He had taken this as a sign and left his lorry unlocked.

Although he said he did not check what was in the vehicle, Horton admitted he had been offered £2,000 to bring in the illicit load, which he claimed he thought were cigarettes.

When he was stopped at Dover’s Eastern Docks he told customs officers he had been to Belgium and was heading for Ashford in Kent to deliver frozen vegetables – but when officials searched the load they found packages of drugs – amounting to 9,620 grammes of heroin and 11,388 grammes of cocaine – hidden in boxes of spinach.

Prosecutor Denzil Pugh said the drugs had a street value in excess of £2.5 million. The Crown said the vast quantity of drugs in the vehicle suggested that Horton had been trusted with the significant load.

The court heard that Horton had a number of previous convictions dating back to the 1980s.

The judge, Recorder Colin Reese QC, told Horton, who looked stunned at the length of the sentence: “This was a significant quantity of Class A drugs you were bringing in the country and I take a very serious view of this.

“Although this was not a sophisticated operation, I reject your claim you thought it was tobacco. You did this for financial gain and you were going to be paid for what you did.”

Speaking after Horton was sentenced, Malcolm Bragg, from the Border Force, said: “The sentence given to Horton should send a very clear warning to anyone tempted to get involved in drug smuggling – you will be caught and you will pay a heavy penalty. Class A drugs wreck lives and we are determined to do all we can to stamp out this vile activity.

“We will continue to make life as tough as possible for those involved in drug smuggling or any other form of illegal activity at the border.”

Horton was jailed for 14 years after his guilty pleas were taken into account, the court heard.