How police smashed Shropshire drugs cartel

An urban cartel in Shropshire considered themselves ‘virtually untouchable’ as they dealt in vast amounts of drugs with an estimated street value of around £1 million, police say.

How police smashed Shropshire drugs cartel

The network's trade in cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis was finally smashed following an extensive covert investigation by West Mercia police.

Officers involved in Operation Active suggest those who controlled the drug distribution for almost a year believed they were "off the police radar" and therefore outside the law and untouchable.

Arrogant and greedy, the web of drug dealers targeted the vulnerable in the local communities of Telford and Shrewsbury.

But in the summer of 2011 through local intelligence the group's almost daily activity came to the attention of police who launched a major undercover inquiry.

On Friday, the ringleaders, a number of their 'lieutenants' and a string of couriers and street dealers were jailed. A further eight people are to be sentenced later this month.

During the past week at Stafford Crown Court details have been revealed of months of patient surveillance work and a series of covert tactics by police to trap the drug dealers. A hidden camera and a listening device were installed at a Shrewsbury second-hand car business – the Phoenix Car Centre in Ditherington Road – which police discovered was the hub of the substantial drugs conspiracy.

Mr Michael Duck QC, prosecuting, said police had produced a comprehensive dossier and schedule linking those involved in the conspiracy by listening and watching at the car sales offices and monitoring drug exchanges, meetings and detailing phone links and text traffic over a considerable period of time.

"It is clear this was a large scale commercial enterprise to supply Class A drugs in Shropshire with connections to other areas including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Northampton," he said.

Officers from Operation Active had hours of video footage and months of sound recordings as well as days of covert street level observations and the tracking of several suspects involved in drug exchanges.

With the subsequent examination of hundreds of text messages and the time and location for dozens of mobile phone calls police were able to provide overwhelming evidence. It led to guilty pleas from 25 men and two women for their various roles in the conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis on dates between July, 2011 and July last year.

Mr Duck said a schedule of extensive contact by text messages revealed constant references to 'green' which is code for cannabis, 'sniff' and 'white' relating to cocaine and 'brown' a reference to heroin. It also confirmed that many of those in the drug network were well know to each other.

Several of the defendants were involved in discussions about drugs and money at the Phoenix offices and several were filmed snorting cocaine.

As the police surveillance continued cars – some registered to Phoenix Cars – were regularly seen and linked to various couriers and dealers.

There was talk of 'dropping' phones to avoid possible police surveillance and hiding quantities of drugs by burying them in wooded areas around Telford.

Officers watched as the group obtained cocaine, heroin and cannabis in exchanges in and around Telford, in Birmingham, Whitchurch and Knutsford.

One incident involved two cars driving slowly side-by-side round a traffic island in Telford allowing the exchange drugs and money.

On several occasions police moved in to seize substantial amounts of drugs and arrested couriers and dealers, but the network continued its operations, despite the loss of several large consignments.

During the arrests several of the defendants were found in possession of weapons, including a machete, baseball bats, a knuckle duster and a Samurai sword.

The main players in the conspiracy were Jonathan Rochford, known as 'Duce', who ran the Phoenix Car Centre and controlled the drug operation with Scott Dodd, who had a long history of drug convictions and had spent almost half of his adult life in prison. Rochford was jailed for eight years and Dodd for 10 years.

At the time of the police inquiry Dodd was on licence from a lengthy prison sentence imposed for his part in an £18,000 heroin exchange in Liverpool three years earlier.

He was directly involved in buying and selling drugs in Telford and Shrewsbury and had a 'powerful and overbearing' influence on others in the drugs chain and was said to be taking £15,000 a month from the trade.

Dodd provided the threat of potential violence to those who stepped out of line which was supported by 'enforcers' which included James Stubbings and Lee Stevens.

Stubbings, 31, of Stone Row, Malinslee, was jailed for seven years. He was an effective tool as Dodd's right hand man and was able to maintain an interest and control of the drugs conspiracy even when held in custody following his arrest in October, 2011.

There were numerous texts exchanged with his girlfriend, Kelly Scullion, and money and drugs continued to be collected and dropped at their home in Malinslee.

Stevens, a martial arts expert, also played an integral part in getting the drugs onto the streets. He was regularly involved in 'cutting' and weighing the drugs ready for distribution. The 28-year-old, of Bridgwood, Brookside, was jailed for 56 months.

Paul Stonehouse, 36, of Culmington, Stirchley, who suffered a beating after using the network's drugs for himself, was a courier and a regular seller of cocaine making contact with buyers by text.

He was arrested in possession of more than £43,000 worth of cannabis in November 2011 and was bailed, but continued his trade in cocaine. He was jailed for 54 months,

Derek Sheldon, 35, of Bridgwood, Brookside, was employed at the Phoenix Car centre and was aware of the extent of drugs operation and played significant part in getting drugs to the street under orders from other people. He received 54 months.

Another employee at the Car Centre was Haroon Hussain, who until now had been working to keep the car sales business afloat while on bail. He was a cocaine user and was required by others to act as a courier. The 26-year-old, of Millers Way, Muxton, was jailed for 38 months,

Dean Stewart, 23, of Burford, Brookside, got 40 months. He was used as a courier to move money and drugs and was a street dealer for heroin.

Another courier operating under the direction of others was Ian Aston, 32, of Cornbrook, Stirchley, who was distributing cocaine and cannabis to street dealers. He got 56 months.

Stephen Carless, 53, was described as a 'foot soldier' and was involved because he needed to feed his own habit and was a trusted and regular courier.

Carless, of Station Road, Donnington, who had a legitimate role as a mechanic for Phoenix Cars and featured on the covert video during drug discussions, was jailed for for 56 months.

Stuart Borrows, a native of Merseyside living in Telford, was a courier and a street dealer selling heroin. The 49-year-old, of Bankside Road, Birkenhead, was given 40 months.

In Shrewsbury the drugs trade was led by Deborah Northwood, a 42-year-old mother-of-seven living in York Road, described as Shrewsbury's Mimi McGuire – a character from the Channel 4 programme, Shameless.

She was involved in the movement of drugs from Telford and the sale in Shrewsbury to clear a £2,000 debt and to feed her own 15-year drug habit. She was jailed for two-and-half years.

Northwood recruited her father-in-law, 50-year-old Andrew Evans, who lived in the same road, as a runner for drug sales. He was also jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Thomas Price, 25, of Burnside, Brookside, was used as a courier by another sub-dealer to link up with Evans and was found in possession of almost 300 grams of high purity cocaine. He got for 30 months.

Another neighbour in York Road, 34-year-old Gordon Smith, was 'employed' and trusted in the buying and selling of cocaine and cannabis.

Quantities of drugs and several bundles of cash amounting to almost £10,000 were found at his home which he was said to have been 'holding' for other people. Smith was jailed for four years.

Also based in Shrewsbury was Andrew Morgan who was on licence from a three- year sentence for supplying cocaine. The 36-year-old, of New Park Road, who was jailed for six years, had links with those at the Phoenix Car Centre and had drug contacts in Liverpool and Manchester and acted as a 'facilitator' within the conspiracy.

Morgan recruited 40-year-old Philip Jennings, a heavy user of cocaine who had drug debts, to collect £40,000 of cocaine in an exchange at Knutsford Service Area. Jennings, a building worker who was banned from driving, offered to pay his work colleague Benjamin Pengilly £200 to take him to Cheshire.

Police were watching and Jennings and Pengilly were arrested.

Jennings, 39, of Abbey Foregate, was jailed for 54 months and Pengilly, 32, of Longden Coleham was jailed for four years.

Seven other conspirators are due to be sentenced later this month.

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