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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Criminals jailed for 50 years after Cumbria police smash drug and robbery gangs

Criminals snared by an undercover police operation which netted nearly £1 million of illicit drugs destined for Cumbria’s streets have been jailed for more than 50 years.

In an investigation lasting months, detectives from the county’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit secretly recorded the conversations of three linked gangs, often as they made their plans.

The evidence helped police to uncover three separate criminal schemes, allowing officers to:

  • Foil a plan to rob the Lloyds TSB Bank in Murray Road, Workington;
  • Seize cocaine with a street value of nearly £300,000;
  • Close down an “industrial scale” cannabis factory in west Cumbria.

At Carlisle Crown Court, prosecutor Tim Evans showed judge Barbara Forrester photos of the secure warehouse on the Glasson industrial estate in Maryport where three of the defendants created their cannabis farm.

It was built on such a huge scale that it was expected to yield cannabis with a street value of £645,000, Mr Evans told the court.

The photos showed a sophisticated growing system, with a plant nursery area, a moisture extraction system, cooling fans, and an indoor plantation with more than 400 plants.

Today, the men involved, who admitted conspiring to produce cannabis, were Edward John Devlin, 55, of Stoneycroft, Great Clifton, near Workington, Mark Anthony Bower, 43, of Church Road, Harrington, Workington and Nicholas John Wilson, 28, of Hollin Bank Court, Blackburn.

Mr Evans also described how four defendants plotted to supply cocaine.

Ivan Thompson, 39, of Hill Crescent, Brigham and Robert McNichol, 32, of Park Road, Aspatria, each admitted two charges of conspiring to supply cocaine.

Stephen Worthington, 30, of Alexander Close Workington, and Stephen Jackson, 31, of Westfield View, Flimby, both admitted a single count of conspiring to supply the drug. Bower also admitted conspiring to supply cocaine.

McNichol was jailed for 12 years, Thompson got 10 years and Bower got 10 years.

Stephen Jackson got two and a half years in prison and Stephen Worthington was jailed for 18 months.

Mr Evans described how police became aware that Bower, Jackson and Worthington were involved in planning the collection of a cocaine consignment in Cumbria.

On December 4, 2009, police tailed Jackson as he drove Worthington out of Cockermouth along the A594 towards Dovenby.

As the men’s car accelerated away from the pursuing police car, officers saw a package being thrown out of the window.

It contained cocaine worth just over £40,000. On March 6 last year, police stopped two cars as they headed north on the M6 past Penrith.

Earlier, McNichol and Thompson had hidden cocaine worth £250,000 in one of the cars. Police later found equipment associated with the plot at a house in Workington, including an industrial press for processing the raw cocaine into street deals.

“The industrial nature of the press was consistent with the industrial nature of the cocaine supply,” explained Mr Evans.

Mr Evans said while police were investigating they uncovered yet another plot – to rob Workington’s Lloyds TSB Bank.

In secretly recorded conversations, detectives heard how Devlin planned to use his local knowledge to set up the raid with Jason Baker, 25, of Heatherdale Drive, Manchester, and David Murphy, 26, of Taylorson Street, Salford. All three men admitted their part in the conspiracy. The three had met in prison, said Mr Evans.

In one conversation, Devlin remarked on what he believed was lax security at the bank as female staff refilled its ATM machine at the same time every week. He used his local knowledge to advise his co-conspirators of where CCTV cameras were based.

Commenting on the decision to arrest the trio, Mr Evans said: “Police decided their plans were sufficiently advanced to make arrests rather than risk the danger to the public.”

Murphy was sent down for six years and nine months, Baker was jailed for four years and three months and Wilson got two years.

Baker’s barrister said his client had shown genuine remorse. Adam Lodge, for McNichol, said he had been a model prisoner while on remand. Oliver Jarvis, for Thompson, said his client was a family man whose character was hitherto impeccable.

Roy Herman, for Bower, said he became involved after suffering a work injury.

Jackson’s barrister said his client, who was a courier, had been motivated by his desire to clear some of his £40,000 debts. Kim Whittlestone, for Worthington, who had no previous convictions, had enjoyed an “exemplary” Army career and now felt remorse for his crime.

Alistair Tredwell, for Wilson, said he was due to become a father in September and now wanted to address his offending.

Saleema Mahmood, for Murphy, said he too had been a model prisoner and had shown willingness to change his ways.

Devlin, who was unwell, was not sentenced at the hearing.

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