Drugs gangs sentenced to 100 years in jail
A criminal network of 20 people have been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for trying to "flood" Cornwall with cocaine and cannabis after falling foul of the biggest police sting operation in the Duchy's history.
The perpetrators, who were sentenced at Truro Crown Court this week, the last yesterday, all played a part in trafficking drugs to Cornwall from Northern England and Surrey by car and train, using a variety of methods to conceal their stash.
Two gangs, which operated out of the Falmouth and Newquay areas, consisted of fathers, sons, brothers and old school friends, using their network of contacts to distribute their drugs throughout the county.
It is known they were responsible for trying to bring in cocaine, cannabis, and amphetamines, with a street value of £880,000 but it was acknowledged in court that they were responsible for bringing in more.
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In some cases the cocaine they brought in was adulterated to such an extent that less than 15% of it was the drug it was marketed as when it hit the streets.
But they were caught following a lengthy police investigation, titled Operation Ipanema, that spanned nine months, involving surveillance, mobile phone analysis, CCTV footage, police chases and roadside arrests.
Standing before Judge John Neligan in the dock throughout this week, each gang member heard the same message from him upon sentencing.
"This behaviour would have provided many with the opportunity to become addicted to cocaine or to have fed their addiction," he said.
"This in turn, in many cases, leads to loss of health and a general downward spiral which many addicts find difficult to recover from and in the future lead some to commit crime in order to support their addictive habit.
"Also a very huge profit may be made on this at the very top of the organisational chain, doubtless getting a larger share than those near to or at the bottom."
Every defendant told the court their own story of how they became embroiled in the conspiracy. There were those who claimed it was to support an alcohol or gambling addiction, others to pay off debts, sometimes to the gang members themselves, others more frankly admitted they were in it just to make money.
Matthew Bird, of Dale Road, who along with Samuel Tucker, of Pendragon Crescent, and his cancer-suffering brother, Joseph, of Tamarisk Lane, led the Newquay operation, received one of the harshest sentences at 12 years, despite pleas from his defence barrister, Michael Gregson, to keep the sentence below 10, so that his wife and three daughters may visit him more easily in prison. Roy Jones, of Porhan Green, who headed the Falmouth and Penryn gang, was dealt a 13-year sentence for being involved in five conspiracies to supply cocaine and cannabis – his half brother Michael Dean Thom, also of Porhan Green, was given five years.
But the out-of-county connections were also dealt stiff sentences. Ian Singleton, then of Woodlands Close, Broadbottom, Hyde, Jason Carter, of Marston Close, Ashton-under-Lyne, courier John Carter Dukinfield Road, Hyde Park, received 23 years collectively.
Kevin Waller, of Allen Street, Maidstone, in Kent, who became involved months after being released from a 10-year sentence for his part in a conspiracy to supply cocaine, received a six-year sentence.
The court also heard how one defendant, Michelle Mageean, of Trelawney Road, who was spared jail for playing a lesser role as a courier in one conspiracy, was to keep her job after her line manager, at the Real ideas Organisation, came to court to speak highly of her character.
But each were greeted with the same message by police – who said that their prosecution sends out a warning to all criminal gangs involved that they will be caught.
Speaking outside of court, David Dale, detective inspector of the serious and organised investigation team (SOCIT), said of the men: "They are major suppliers of drugs, who have made substantial amounts of money, hundreds of thousands of pounds in profits that they made and they have been living a pleasant lifestyle.
"These people have contempt for everybody else, they don't care about their neighbours, they don't care about other people because they are going to take money off them. They just see them as cash cows they can take money off.
"The message is, if you operate within Cornwall and you are a substantial drug dealer we will locate you, we will arrest you, and we will prosecute you. Every single person we target will be prosecuted. If you bring drugs in to Cornwall, we won't just prosecute the people in Cornwall we will go after you as well."
The gangs' activities were slowly scuppered by a series of operations following months of investigations, stretching from September 2010 to August 2011.
The court heard how the level of their involvement was highlighted by the continued activity despite some being released on bail.
Detective constable Chris Louca, who was highly commended by Judge Neligan for his handling of the case said, outside court, he was pleased with the lengths of sentence handed out.
He added that although historically the Westcountry may have been viewed as an easy target for drugs gangs, with cases like this, that was beginning to change.
"With recent operations, Ipanema included, Devon and Cornwall is now going to begin to get a reputation for being a tough place to go and try traffic drugs.
"I think what we've shown, especially with this job is that we don't just look at our criminals who are trafficking the drugs in to Cornwall, we actually look at who is supplying them in bulk quantities and wherever and whenever possible we will identify them and also bring them to justice."
A further man, John Patrick Kennedy, of Stonleigh Pavilions, Bryan Road, Huddersfield, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis and possession while intending to supply cocaine, and is awaiting sentencing.