£5m drugs gang used middle-aged people driving cars and caravans to avoid police attention

Thirteen people involved in cocaine and amphetamine plots jailed for more than 60 years

A £5m drugs gang used “apparently harmless” middle-aged people driving cars and caravans to try and avoid the attention of cops.

Thirteen people involved in cocaine and amphetamine plots were today jailed for more than 60 years at Liverpool Crown Court.

Judge Alan Conrad, QC, said the gang’s three conspiracies were “marked by their professionalism and careful organisation”.

He said: “Legitimate businesses were used as cover. Taxis were used. Vans were acquired and liveried to appear legitimate.

“Cars and caravans were used – driven by apparently harmless middle-aged people in order to avoid attention.

“As and when drugs were seized this was treated simply as a risk of the enterprise and the operation continued, with the methods used changing.”

The North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (TITAN) investigated the gang’s activities between February 2014 and June 2015 as part of Operation Pitscale.

Simon Berkson, prosecuting, said 47-year-old Paul Berry – who co-owned an internet tickets and events company in Manchester – was the ringleader.

Berry’s “right hand man” Stephen Reeves, 48, used his furniture business Skemersdale Furnishings as a cover to transport drugs.

Kenneth Pritchard, 67, used his BMW to “transport box loads of drugs” and allowed his caravan, kept in a timber yard in Burscough, to be used to store cocaine.

Dean Stephen, 36, was provided with a van “disguised with a false logo” to transport significant amounts of drugs, which he also stored at his home.

The court heard Lee Tarry, 33, was stopped by police travelling from Skelmersdale to Glasgow in a taxi on February 14, 2014.

Hidden inside a bed – identical to those sold by Reeves’ furniture firm – was 3kg of 60-70% pure cocaine, valued at £720,000.

On June 16, 2014, a dog walker found 45kg of amphetamine, valued up to £900,000, in rural Meadow Lane, Ormskirk.

Peter Linford, 58, had hired a van, collected the haul and “stashed it in a hedge overnight”, but was caught when he returned to collect the drugs.

Reeves and Linford also disguised a Ford Connect van with the logo ‘Auto Valet Direct’ before it was given to Stephen.

Officers seized 51kg of amphetamine from this van and Stephen’s home, valued at £514,000, on October 9.

Police stopped drugs courier Warren Bennett, 36, who was driving a tipper truck in Litherland , on December 8.

They asked him to move a heavy bag, which he initially said contained tools, before shouting: “I’m f***ed, I’m f***ed!”

When asked what he meant, the defendant replied “It’s full of whizz”, revealing 46kg of amphetamine, valued at up to £456,000.

After months of observing Pritchard, police stopped his BMW X5 on February 12, 2015.

Officers recovered 68kg of amphetamine from the car and 2kg of “import quality” cocaine – secreted in a void in a cupboard – from his caravan.

On March 7 they caught Darren Highfield, 44, transporting 18kg of amphetamine to Sheffield to the homes of Dimitri Wright, 40, and Ryan Vintin, 38.A

nd on April 21, 227g of 83% pure cocaine was found in a car containing Stephen Higgs, 32, Micheal Kairns, 43, and Anoushka Lindsay, 40, on the M6.

The gang all pleaded guilty to their involvement in respective conspiracies, with Berry and Reeves admitting all three charges.

Berry, of Abbey Walk, Preston, who was on licence for a previous cocaine plot, was jailed for 11 years.

Reeves, of Charnock, Skelmersdale, who had no previous convictions, was jailed for nine years.

Linford, of Groveside, Edge Hill, was sentenced to four and a half years.

Pritchard, of Manor Crescent, Burscough, and Kearns, of Dovecot Avenue, Huyton, were both handed five years and four months.

Wright, of The Meads, and Vintin, of Luna Croft, both in Sheffield, were jailed for three years and eight months and three years and four months respectively.

Tarry, of Cherrycroft, Skelmersdale was jailed for five years, and Higgs, of Wadeson Road, Walton, for three years.

Stephen, of Egerton, Skelmersdale, was handed an extra 12 months on top of an existing three-year sentence.

Bennett, of no fixed abode but from Preston, had one month added to an existing three year and four months term.

Couriers Martin Cleary, 37, of Shaw Lane, Prescot, and Highfield, of Hollybank Way, Sheffield, received two years behind bars.

Lindsay, of Molyneux Road, Kensington, will be sentenced on March 24.

Liverpool Echo

The far-right supporter jailed in this story is Michael “Mayo” Kearns. He was also jailed for violent disorder after attacking a group of anti-fascists with the North West infidels. You can read that report here

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