A NORTHWICH man is among the nine members of a huge drugs conspiracy who have been jailed for a combined total of 106 years.

The 15-month conspiracy was uncovered in Cumbria and involved an estimated 300 kilos of cocaine, worth £53 million.

It was heard at Carlisle Crown Court, the operation involved the importation of huge quantities of the Class A drug, with some of the criminals acting as brokers as they organised the onward sale and supply to crime groups and individual dealers, including in south Cumbria.

Handing down the lengthy jail terms, Judge Nicholas Barker highlighted how the illicit trade fuels further crime including thefts, robberies, burglaries and even deaths.

Among the men jailed was Stephen Stockall, of Well Lane, Weaverham, who made 16 trips during the conspiracy, supplying an estimated eight kilos of cocaine to another defendant, Reece Barnes.

Sixty-three-year-old Stockall told police he had been working to pay off an earlier drugs debt of between £50,000 and £100,000.

He had written a letter expressing remorse.

Stockall had served a long sentence previously for involvement in importing heroin.

His barrister Mark Connor disputed the prosecution claim that he had regularly supplied 'one kilo' consignments of cocaine.

“He was dealing in grams and ounces,” said the barrister.

While Stockall accepted he had not received 'direct threats' from others in the supply chain, he feared what might happen if he refused to obey the orders of those who were directing him, the court heard.

Nor did the defendant have any influence on the people above him in the conspiracy, added the barrister.

Judge Barker jailed Stockall for 12 years.

It was the dealing of Windermere man Barnes, 31, which triggered an investigation, allowing police to dismantle the conspiracy and expose its 'Amazon-style' level of organisation.

One of the two men who led the operation, Simon Buller, 45, from Atherton, has yet be sentenced for his role in the conspiracy. All but one of the 10-strong group admitted conspiring to supply cocaine.

As he passed sentence, Judge Barker told the defendants: “It’s the daily diet of this court to deal with the outcome of drug dealing and drug use.

“It’s the addiction which ruins lives, destroys relationships, even causes deaths.

“It’s that supply of drugs which drives criminal activity through thefts, robbery, burglary and it often lies in the background of violence and disorder.

“That is why drugs -particularly Class A drugs – are illegal and why dealing in them receives such significant sentences; and why those who do so at large scale can expect to serve very lengthy sentences, which of course will come as no surprise to any of you.”

Earlier in the case, prosecutor Tim Evans described how police uncovered a huge network of drug importation and dealing, with key players hiring drivers to transport consignments of high-purity cocaine to locations across Cumbria and the North West.

The drugs were also delivered to locations in Wales, the Midlands and Scotland. 

Judge Barker handed down the following sentences:

  • Andrew Stephens, 41, of Eastfield Drive, Golborne, was jailed for 20 years.
  • Daryll Preston, 36, of Hamilton Street, Atherton, was jailed for 11 years and six months.
  • Scott Owen, of Salisbury Way, Astley, was jailed for 14 years and six months. Owen denied wrongdoing and was the only defendant convicted after a trial.
  • Reece Barnes, 31, of Elim Grove, Windermere, was jailed for 12 years.
  • Thomas Whittaker, of Brierfield, Digmoor, Skelmersdale, was jailed for 12 years.
  • Michael Evans, 36, from Skelmersdale, was jailed for six years.
  • Caine Turner, 32, from Manchester, was jailed for eight years and eight months.
  • Anthony Warhurst, 58, of Knowsley Street, Leigh, was jailed for nine years, eight months.