Shropshire gang sentenced over drug chemicals
Four Shropshire men imported substantial quantities of chemicals that were sold to drug users in the county.
The substances, liquid solvents that have a legitimate use in industry, were worth up £150,000 when sold as illegal drugs on the streets of Telford and elsewhere.
Harry Hull-Merrick, 30, Joel Delaney, 36, Aled Pegg, 31, and Alex Jones, 27, were all arrested at various stages during a four-year police investigation into the supply of the "addictive and harmful" substances. The men live in Telford and Newport.
Judge Peter Barrie said the defendants were part of a lengthy and large scale commercial enterprise that was ‘run like a business’ dating back almost six years.
He said both Hull-Merrick and Delaney had played extensive roles in the illegal supply of the drugs which were imported from companies in China and Poland.
Pegg’s car valeting business in Telford had been used as a cover for the importation and Jones had acted as a street dealer.
Both Hull-Merrick and Delaney had been involved in importing substantial quantities of GBL, a Class C drug.
Judge Barrie told Shrewsbury Crown Court that the drug was both addictive to users and had harmful side-effects when the users tried to come off it.
He said that Hull-Merrick had been extensively involved with illegal drugs over a four-year period, including the importation of a solvent called 4-Methylethcathinone, known as 4-MEC, which is a Class B drug.
Delaney had also played a leading role in setting up a distribution network in what was a ‘long lasting’ commercial enterprise.
Harry Hull-Merrick, of Church Street, Hadley, was jailed for a total of five-and-a-half years having admitted two offences of importing large quantities of 4-MEC dating back to March, 2012. He had also pleaded guilty to two charges of possession of GBL (gamma butyrolactone), a Class C drug, with intent to supply and a charge of perverting the course of justice.
Joel Delaney, of Chad Valley, High Street, Wellington, was jailed for a total of 42 months having admitted importing 4-MEC with Hull-Merrick and offences of importing GBL and being in possession of GBL with intent to supply.
Aled Pegg, of Cheswell Cottage, Cheswell Hill, Newport, was jailed for a total of 20 months having admitted possession of GBL with intent to supply and perverting the course of justice.
Alex Jones, of Summer House Grove, Newport, who was described as a ‘street dealer’ and had admitted being in possession of GBL with intent to supply, was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
Confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act were made against Hull-Merrick and Delaney.
The benefit amount for Delaney for his criminal activity was said to be £130,000, but that he had no means of paying and a confiscation order was made for a nominal sum of £10.
Hull-Merrick’s benefit was estimated at almost £124,000 and a confiscation order was made in the sum of £4,670 – cash found in his possession and retained by the police.
No confiscation application was made against Jones and an application against Pegg was adjourned until May 11.
Valeting firms were drug gang’s cover
Car valeting businesses set up in Shropshire were used as fronts for the organised importation and supply of illegal drugs in the town for more than four years.
Police were finally able to unravel the links between four Telford men said to be at the heart of what was described as a large-scale enterprise.
Two of the men were listed as directors of at least two companies which were used to import the substances from online businesses in China, Poland and India.
Inquiries during Operation Tassle, run by the Serious and Organised Crime Unit, revealed that the drugs had been sourced and imported as far back as March 2012.
Packages were being flown into UK airports and many were being intercepted by the Border Agency but others were reaching their destinations including numerous addresses in the Telford area linked to Harry Hull-Merrick, Joel Delaney, Aled Pegg and Alex Jones, who all received prison sentences at Shrewsbury Crown Court.
The packages contained substantial quantities of 4-Mec (4-Methylethcathinone) a powder which is a stimulant and resembles mephedrone and is regarded as a Class B drug. Users can become involved in re-dosing (“boosting” or “bumping”) multiple times. It is reported to have been used as the active ingredient in fake Ecstasy pills.
The dealers were also importing GBL (gamma butyrolactone) a clear liquid solvent available for legitimate use in industry. It becomes illegal when a person is in possession or supplies the Class C drug knowing it will be swallowed and ingested.
It is known to be used during sex, often in chill-outs, sex parties or when clubbing and when taken as a liquid causes a euphoric effect, with a loss of inhibitions and increased confidence, similar to being drunk.
It is often sold in the grey market as ‘alloy cleaner’ or ‘rust remover’ which was the cover used by Pegg and Hull-Merrick, who were listed as directors of various car valeting businesses Pure Water Valeting Ltd in Hadley, Global Car Chemicals and Hydro Car Wash Ltd.
The court heard Delaney had been importing GBL between October 2013 and June 2015, and it came to light after he was arrested in February 2014, on suspicion of rape and a claim that the drug had been used to facilitate the offence. But no further action was taken in that case.
However, during a search of his then address at Victoria Mews, Wellington, officers found plastic pots and a syringe and two plastic bottles with traces of GBL.
There were scales with traces of 4-MEC and cocaine, a bag with cocaine and a mixing agent and several mobile phones.
Two other addresses at East Avenue and Valley Road were raided and it emerged that packages of GBL had been delivered to all three addresses in the name of Jason Slack purporting to be in business as Ultra Cleaners or Nails-R-Us. In January 2015 officers seized several litres of GBL at East Avenue which was part of an import from Poland and found syringes in the bathroom and traces of cocaine. At this point that it became clear that Delaney was supplying the drug and that Jones was selling at street level.
Delaney had also been selling the drug in larger amounts to others over a two-and-half-year period and a phone recovered from Victoria Mews showed messages mentioning ‘Alex’ and requests for ‘liquid’.
He was also attempting to expand the ‘business’ and there were messages about ‘building up the line’ and increasing his customers.
Delaney, a trained chef, was arrested again in January 2015 when further phone texts were recovered indicating his intention to ‘branch out’ and that he had six people waiting for deliveries across the country and that he could ‘double the money’.
Evidence showed that he was involved in at least 14 consignments of GBL arriving through UK airports into the Telford area.
Jones and Hull-Merrick had been arrested in August 2014 following a brawl at the Asda supermarket in Donnington, when Jones was in possession of a vial of GBL worth £95 and Hull-Merrick was in possession of a knuckeduster.
Inquiries into Hull-Merrick revealed packages containing five kilograms of a ‘white crystal powder’ – known to be 4-MEC – had been delivered to his then girlfriend’s address in March 2012, having come into the country from China through East Midlands airport.
It was also discovered that in October 2013 two one-kilo packages listed as ‘plastic particles’ had been sent to Delaney at Victoria Mews and to the address of another of Hull-Merrick’s girlfriends from the same online company in China through Heathrow airport on the same day. The 4-MEC in the packages was estimated to have a street value of up to £40,000.
In March 2014 Hull-Merrick had been arrested following a disturbance at the Ice Lounge nightclub. He was in possession two bottles of GBL, a syringe and £900 in cash.
He denied dealing and claimed the liquid was linked to the car washing business.
However, when officers searched his address in Church Street they found four other bundles of cash totalling £3,750 and quantities of GBL in two plastic containers. About 168 emails and messages were traced to Hull-Merrick using the name Stephen Washington and revealing his efforts to obtain drugs from China and Poland. His links to Pegg were then uncovered through messages about substances and it became clear the car washing and valeting operations run by Pegg were merely a cover for the drug imports.
Inquiries showed that none of the businesses linked to Pegg and Hull-Merrick had provided tax or VAT returns.
Hull-Merrick had attempted to claim that the money seized by police was connected to the purchase of a white BMW and messages between the two men showed Hull-Merrick encouraging Pegg to provide false documents and a statement to suggest the monies were a deposit for the car and not from drug dealing.
Even while the police investigated the drug dealing had continued and the court heard that all four men were addicted to GBL and other drugs.
It was said that they were all having difficulty attempting to overcome their drug problems.
Constant battle to keep ahead of the dealers
The case of the Telford solvents ring is typical of the struggles that enforcement agencies have had to deal with in recent years as drug dealers have sought ever-more innovative ways to circumvent the law.
As governments have sought to crack down on known drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis, a burgeoning industry has grown up among unscrupulous dealers who have exploited legal loopholes by selling household and industrial substances as mind-altering drugs or quack medicines.
The Government has tried to crack down on this through the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016. The act followed a campaign by the family of Telford man Jamie Penn, who died in May 2014 after taking a so-called legal high.
The law bans the sale of any mind-altering substances unless they are specifically exempted from the legislation.
Before the act, dealers got around the law by saying their products were not intended for human consumption, but for legitimate use such as plant food.
Mr Penn, a 29-year-old trainee bricklayer, died after the then-legal drug 4,4-DMAR reacted with an ecstasy tablet he had taken the previous night.
Following his death, Mr Penn’s sister Charlotte Delo has campaigned to warn people about the dangers of these substances.
Despite the ban, the highly addictive drugs have continued to present problems, particularly among the homeless and in prisons.
Deadly fake diet pills are another menace which have brought tragedy to Shropshire.
In 2015 Shrewsbury university student Eloise Parry died after taking slimming tablets made from the industrial chemical DNP which she had bought over the internet.
Miss Parry, who was 21, sent a heart-rending text message to her lecturer just hours before her death, saying she believed the tablets were going to kill her.
DNP had been used during the First World War in the manufacture of weapons, and more recently as a pesticide.
However, the rise of the internet use has seen a black market grow where the substance is sold in the form of slimming tablets.
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