SEVEN members of a gang which used drones to deliver around £500,000 worth of drugs to prison cell windows have been jailed.

Birmingham Crown Court was told on Friday how mobile phones, cannabis and other illegal substances were flown into seven jails, including HMP Hewell in Tardebigge, as part of what is thought to be the UK's biggest ever "drone mail" smuggling plot.

Judge Simon Drew QC jailed seven men for between three and 10 years and handed suspended jail terms and a community order to six other plotters - saying deterrent sentences were "essential" to help prevent similar offending.

An earlier trial was told drone pilots, drivers and look-outs conspired with prisoners to smuggle drugs into jails across the country.

Speaking to gang members, Judge Simon Drew QC said: "Each of you falls to be sentenced for your part in conveying controlled drugs, mobile phones and Sim cards into prisons up and down the country.

"The method you chose to do this was both carefully planned and executed. Each of you played a part in a wider conspiracy which resulted in approximately 100 separate deliveries.

"This was a sophisticated commercial operation and due to the high value placed on drugs and mobile phones in prisons, designed to make those of you who ran the operation hundreds of thousands of pounds in profit."

Gang leader Lee Anslow, who was serving a sentence at HMP Hewell, was found with digital scales and £20,000 worth of cannabis in his cell after police smashed the network.

The 31-year-old smiled at the public gallery after being jailed for 10 years, as the judge described him as "one of the key operation directors" involved in at least 23 drone flights - despite being behind bars.

Drone pilot Brandon Smith, 24, from Kingsbury Road, Tipton, was jailed for seven years, while 29-year-old Shane Hadlington, from Sycamore Lodge, Oldbury, was ordered to serve a 51-month sentence.

Prison inmate Paul Ferguson, 38, was jailed for four years and nine months, while 28-year-old Stefan Rattray, also a serving prisoner, was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Paul Payne, 33, from Broad Street in Coseley, and Justin Millington, 24, of no fixed address, were given prison terms of 44 months and 40 months respectively.

Millington was arrested outside HMP Hewell in January 2017 with a UAV carrying cannabis worth £3,000, cocaine hydrochloride and synthetic drugs valued at almost £10,000.

Commenting after the case, Detective Inspector Gareth Williams, of West Midlands Police, said around £110,000 worth of drugs had been recovered from 11 drones.

The officer said: "This is a landmark case. It's the biggest drone drug smuggling racket into prisons ever seen in the UK.

"A drone flier, assisted by one or two others, would speak to an inmate on a contraband phone to guide a drone into prison where the attached parcel would be hooked off using sticks."

Four defendants received suspended six-month prison terms - Stella Deakin, 41, of Boundary Hill, Dudley; Callum McDonough, 25, from Shenley Field Road, Northfield; Jake Blewitt, 21, from Highfield Road, Tipton, and 21-year-old Dwayne Tinker, of Lindridge Drive, Minworth.

Richard Harrabin, 28, from Perton Grove, Weoley Castle, was given an 18-month suspended sentence.

Ryan Greaves, 21, from Kimberley Walk, Minworth, was given a 12-month community order.

A previous phase of the same inquiry into smuggling using drones saw seven people jailed in December last year for offences linked to contraband with an estimated value of £370,000.