A cage fighter nicknamed "The Bear" was the "enforcer" for a drug empire that collapsed when police seized £20m of cocaine on the M6.

Liverpool brothers Alan and John Tobin supplied vast amounts of Class A drugs from Merseyside to gangs across England, Wales and Scotland.

Among their customers were Anthony and Leon Cullen - who headed a heavily armed drug gang - and Jamie Oldroyd 's firm, both in Warrington.

The Tobins were backed up by former UFC competitor Robbie 'The Bear' Broughton, from St Helens, who enforced debts and collected payments from notorious gang leaders.

Liverpool Crown Court today heard the 6ft 2in, 18st heavyweight moved an estimated £30m of cash and used an encrypted EncroChat phone with the handle "NovaBear".

Judge Garrett Byrne today said the married dad-of-two was the "muscle" for the gang and said: "I've no doubt you have a keen sense of letting your family down."

Nicola Daley, prosecuting, said the Tobins ran a "criminally sophisticated, highly profitable and well-organised business" for more than four years, between 2016 and 2020.

Alan, 52, of Regency Park, Widnes, and John, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot, had minions trading primarily in cocaine, but also in heroin, cannabis and ketamine.

But the brothers had to become more hands on after instructing Jamie Simpson to transport a £20m stash of cocaine from Kent to Warrington for them.

Detectives made the largest ever seizure of cocaine on land in the UK when they intercepted the van, carrying 186kg of up to 90% pure cocaine under floorboards and in a specially adapted "hide", in the early evening on August 2, 2018.

Astonishing police helicopter footage showed the moment officers stopped the blue van near Knutsford.

Police seized £20m of cocaine from a van stopped on the M6.
Police seized £20m of cocaine from a van stopped on the M6.

John Tobin's DNA was later found deposited on the bubble wrap of one of the drug blocks he had earlier watched being placed into boxes during the packing process.

Ms Daley said enquiries revealed just less than a week earlier on July 28, John Tobin had travelled from Kent to Brussels, via Eurostar, and while he couldn't be directly linked to the importation, he had been "very close to the original source".

The Tobin brothers also sold drugs to other gangs in London, North Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Manchester, the North East and Scotland, using couriers like Liverpool dad Anwar Rahim.

Alan and John commanded the criminal enterprise, but used Broughton, Simon Leech and Brian McQuillan to help with the day-to-day running of their business.

Ms Daley said Broughton, 38, of Breccia Gardens, didn't have direct contact with drugs, but was used to "enforce unpaid debts" and involved in moving cash, which she said given the amounts of drugs involved could be around £30m in total.

He was a close associate of the Tobins, but also in regular phone contact with the Cullen brothers, and offered to move money for other gangs, charging 7.5% commission.

A three-pronged operation was launched into Tobin's customers, as Operations Bullfight, Samurai and Dreadnought, targeted the Cullens, Oldroyd and drug boss, Lee Stoba.

Undercover officers watched John Tobin meet with Anthony Cullen, Broughton and Robert Bibby - an associate of the Cullens - at a countryside cafe.

Alan Tobin, 52, of Regency Park, Widnes, and John Tobin, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot.
Alan Tobin, 52, of Regency Park, Widnes, and John Tobin, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot.

Alan Tobin was also seen meeting with Oldroyd and Simpson at a cafe in Warrington, to discuss trading with gangs in Liverpool and beyond.

Ms Daley said Broughton continued to work for the Tobins until their arrest in 2020, when the brothers were struggling with "large debts", which "may not be a surprise given that even in 2018 they had lost 186kg of drugs".

She said John Tobin was "put under some pressure" to pay people significant amounts - possibly unpaid wages - and to sell personal belongings to do so.

Leech, 29, of Brindley Avenue, Latchford, Warrington, was a "conduit" between the Tobins and the Cullens and from his garage provided and serviced vehicles for the Tobins over a 10-month period, from 2016 to 2017.

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McQuillan, 51, of Buttermarket Street, Warrington, was a courier and in a six-week period in March and April 2018 over 21 trips he transported around £4m in cash.

Some of the Tobins' trade was revealed in the EncroChat hack, as part of Operation Venetic.

This involved Alan, aka "CapeRocket", and John, aka "SlightDrake", in discussions between March and May 2020 about 73kg of heroin, 83kg of cocaine, 57kg of ketamine and 78kg of cannabis.

The drug ring was taken down on September 9 last year, when police raided the gang's homes to arrest those involved.

Broughton, who admitted the cocaine plot, has five convictions for nine offences, including possessing a bladed article in 2007 and battery in 2009.

Heavyweight fighter Rob Broughton from the Wolfslair MMA Academy.
Heavyweight fighter Rob Broughton from the Wolfslair MMA Academy.

Anthony Barraclough, defending Broughton, who fought out of the legendary Wolfslair MMA Academy in Widnes, said he should be sentenced as a "money launderer" within a drug plot given his role.

He said: "There is no evidence of him grabbing anybody or committing any acts of violence. The fact is Robbie the Bear is an enormous guy. If he's in the background, he becomes an enforcer.

"He's never used violence since a long time ago and that was battery. There is a great deal of difference between what he could do - there is no GBH and so on."

Mr Barraclough said Broughton was friends with the Tobins for 20 years through gyms he worked and trained at.

Liverpool's criminal underworld exposed

He said: "A lot of people if they're not as big as him, if they're not as fit as him, they like to associate with Robbie the Bear. They like to watch him on Youtube, in his fights in various parts of the world and say 'I train with him etc'."

Mr Barraclough said much of the phone contact between Broughton and others was "social", but "he accepts there came a stage when he wasn't just big Robbie the Bear, with a big heart as all these character references, but he became Robbie the big soft idiot because he allowed himself to get involved with these people."

He added: "He was not in the true sense part of the organised crime gang he was being used by them, sometimes he feels without his knowledge."

Mr Barraclough added that the fighter was "a good man, a good father, a good husband and a good friend" to many people.

However, he said: "I'm afraid, apart from being a good man he's a fool and an idiot, because he went and allowed himself to be dragged into this, possibly for the idea of some financial gain, but now is going to pay for it.

Robbie Broughton, 38, of Breccia Gardens, St Helens.
Robbie Broughton, 38, of Breccia Gardens, St Helens.

"He was working every hour available in effect through the night as a doorman. He wasn't even every day with these people. He was used when he was needed."

However, Judge Byrne rejected the suggestion Broughton should be sentenced as a money launderer within a drugs plot and said it was "entirely artificial".

He said: "His role is to be more properly characterised as an enforcer - he was the muscle - he collected debts paid and couriered large amounts of money around."

Judge Byrne said character references spoke "very highly" of Broughton and about his "qualities as a loving, caring family man and friend", who "goes out of his way to help people" and whose "loving wife and two children" would miss him while he is in prison.

Jailing him for eight and a half years, he said: "I've no doubt you have a keen sense of letting your family down and I hope when you're released you have their best interests uppermost in your mind."

The judge added that he had medical conditions and "other difficulties", stating: "It does remain a possibility that you were to some extent at least taken advantage of."

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The Tobins, who both admitted conspiring to supply cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ketamine, both had a handful of previous convictions, but none involving drug trafficking.

Judge Byrne told the pair: "It was a business on a national scale which netted you vast sums of money, which fuelled your lavish lifestyles.

Simon Leech, 29, of Brindley Avenue, Latchford, Warrington, and Brian McQuillan, 51, of Buttermarket Street, Warrington.
Simon Leech, 29, of Brindley Avenue, Latchford, Warrington, and Brian McQuillan, 51, of Buttermarket Street, Warrington.

"The money was couriered to various locations and ultimately ended up in Canary Wharf in London, when it was put through various shell companies and professionally laundered."

He jailed Alan Tobin for 20 years and John Tobin for 19 years and eight months.

Leech, who admitted the cocaine plot, has eight convictions for 15 offences, including "street dealing" of cocaine to an undercover police officer in 2010.

He was jailed for eight years.

McQuillan, who admitted money laundering, had one conviction for criminal damage in 1988.

He was jailed for six years and four months.

The drug consignment hidden inside the Tobin brothers' van, which was stopped on the M6.
The drug consignment hidden inside the Tobin brothers' van, which was stopped on the M6.

Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Inspector Mike Evans, from Cheshire Police Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: "Taking down the mainstream supplier of drugs to three big organised crime groups operating in Warrington was the final piece of the jigsaw.

"The brothers sat at the very top of the chain. They were provided with greater protection to prevent them from being identified as leaders of the organised crime group. At first they sat back and reaped the rewards of their criminality by displaying a lavish lifestyle while employing Broughton, Leech and McQuillan to run the business.

"For a while their criminal enterprise was seen to be getting bigger and bigger until we began running a number of operations on the gangs they were supplying drugs to.

The drug consignment hidden inside the Tobin brothers' van, which was stopped on the M6.
The drug consignment hidden inside the Tobin brothers' van, which was stopped on the M6.


"Once we started seizing large quantities of drugs and cash, problems arose, and the Tobins soon began to surface, as huge debts were owed. The colossal seizure of 186kg of cocaine saw their reputation ruined.

"The investigation team has worked relentlessly to collate evidence that shows the brothers’ involvement in these conspiracies over a period of up to nine years. Their hard work and determination has paid dividends and resulted in five guilty pleas and justice finally catching up with them all."

David Keane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, added: "This an enormous achievement in Cheshire's fight against those involved in serious and organised crime.

"The sheer hard work, determination and successful results over many years to get to this point is commendable and testament to how hard officers work to protect the communities they serve."

Stories from Liverpool Crown Court

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