A Maidstone woman has been jailed for more than five years after being convicted of smuggling more than three kilograms of heroin into Australia in a hammock to help pay off gambling debts.

Hai Ngoc Thi Le, 53, was sentenced to eight and a half years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of five and a half years, of which she has already served 504 days.

Le, who arrived in Australia from Vietnam as a refugee in 1996, last month entered a guilty plea on one charge of importing a commercial quantity of heroin.

The County Court heard that Le had travelled to Cambodia in April, 2016, returning to Australia in May, 2016.

A search of her baggage uncovered a hammock with metal poles containing the equivalent of 3.2 kilograms of pure heroin with a potential street value of $6.9 million.

Le initially claimed she went to Cambodia for a holiday and knew nothing about the heroin, but later entered a guilty plea.

The court was told investigators had found she had lost $36,772 to a casino earlier in 2016. She was approached with an offer of $20,000 to be involved in the importation of heroin into Australia.

In sentencing Le, judge Christopher Ryan noted Le’s lawyer had argued she should be sentenced as a courier.

“Your gambling … is in no way mitigating of your conduct,” Judge Ryan said.

“Whilst he did not use this word, the nub of his submission was that your conduct could generally be described as amateurish. Even if this were so, it does not detract from the seriousness of your offending.”

Judge Ryan said Le’s sentence must act to deter others from committing similar crimes.

“But for your plea of guilty, I would have sentenced you to 12 years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of eight years’ imprisonment,” he said.