A GANG involved in a nationwide conspiracy to flood the area with Class A drugs imported into the country in a helicopter have been jailed.
The five members were part of a highly sophisticated network spanning Teesside across to the North West, which was eventually brought down when two couriers were caught in the region.
At the height of the conspiracy detectives discovered a consignment of 60kg heroin and 43kg cocaine was delivered to the south of England via helicopter from Belgium, before being dispersed across the country.
Teesside Crown Court heard how they were not directly connected to the importation of the drugs but they played a key role in getting the cocaine onto the streets.
Operation Spoonbill, which has been running for several years, made the breakthrough in October 2015 when 2kg of cocaine was seized but the gang continued to bring the Class drug from Liverpool and Manchester.
Stephen McNally, prosecuting, said the key players in the Teesside area were Louis Lyons, Stephen Harland and Emma Newton. The first two pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, along with Daryl Small, while Newton was convicted following a trial as was co-defendant John Eddy.
Judge Howard Crowson said jurors laughed at Eddy’s evidence during his trial and branded
The trial was the latest in a series court cases as part of the Cleveland Police operation, in July last year members of the Liverpool end of the drug conspiracy were jailed for their part in importing huge quantities of cocaine from the European mainland via helicopters.
Amos Waldman, representing Lyon, said: “There wasn’t any evidence that he had made a large amount of financial gain and no evidence that he lived a lavish lifestyle.”
Daryl Small’s barrister, Nigel Soppitt, said: “He was one of the first to indicate a guilty plea which is a brave step because there is repercussions in these kind of circumstances.”
James Bourne-Arton, representing Harland, accepted his client played a significant role but added that ‘he has not brought any unique skills or connections’ to the gang.
The court heard how Newton was the only one of the five to have an drug-connected previous conviction on her record for a money laundering offence.
Christopher Baker, in mitigation, said her role in the gang continued following the jailing of her long-term partner Jason Magill in 2016 but had petered out by the end.
And John Eddy’s barrister, Peter Sabiston, said his client was not the most ‘sophisticated’ member of the gang and that he ‘had no influence over those above him in the chain’.
Judge Crowson said it was impossible to accurately measure how much cocaine was brought into Teesside by the gang but they played a significant role in supplying cocaine and amphetamine on Teesside and Darlington.
Jailing Lyons, of Waterford Road, Norton, Stockton, for eight years, he said: “You were regarded as a man of great influence within the organisation.”
The 29-year-old was given an additional six month sentence following a violent disturbance in the Jury’s Inn in Middlesbrough, last month.
The judge described 30-year-old Stephen Harland, Redbrook Avenue, Stockton, as a ‘trusted’ member of the gang who played a ‘significant’ role in the supply chain. He was jailed for eight years.
Small, 33, of Lauder Close, Stockton, was sentenced to six years for his ‘significant’ role in the distribution network.
Judge Crowson passed the longest sentence for Newton, 36, of Derby Avenue, Middlesbrough, after she was found guilty following a lengthy trial. She was jailed for ten and a half years.
The judge said: “You were simply working with him (Magill) until he was arrested. You just took up where you left off and you were directing Harland and Small at times.”
Eddy, of Waterford Road, Norton, Stockton, was sentenced to eight years in custody. Judge Crowson said: “Your evidence during the trial was almost catastrophic; it almost proved your guilt – what you said was unbelievable.”
The 30-year-old was given a six-month consecutive sentence after he was involved in a high-speed police chase along the A66 when he was clocked doing more than 130mph.
When he was eventually stopped, Eddy managed to overpower the two officers and take off in his own car at speed.
He pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, assault PC and resisting arrest.