A lout who once killed a dad-of-two on his way home from watching the Champions League final was also embroiled in a large-scale cocaine dealing conspiracy, it can today be revealed.

James Gelling played a significant role during a two year plot to flood both the Class A drug and cannabis around the Southport area, an operation headed up by his friend Nathan Ball.

The 33-year-old was in control of graft phones and was part of an organised crime group that nicknamed themselves the "High Parkers," Liverpool Crown Court heard.

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Gelling was part of the long-running conspiracy which started in July 2018, about a year before he killed father-of-two Ventsislav Marginov, 51, in Southport.

The thug was part of a gang of seven who confronted the Bulgarian after he was making his way home following Liverpool's Champions League win in the summer of 2019.

Gelling, it was ruled, delivered the fatal blow to Mr Marginov who suffered a fractured skull from the brutal attack and had to be put on a life-support machine for his injuries.

Nathan Ball, convicted of drug dealing
Nathan Ball, convicted of drug dealing

He died three days later on June 4, and Gelling was later handed a six year jail sentence.

Shockingly, it was heard how Gelling told detectives during his custody interview: "I'm not arsed if he dies or lives, he's injured permanently, a cabbage.

"I do not give a f***."

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The Southport man today appeared at court via a video-link from HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire.

Also sentenced was his accomplice Nathan Ball, who controlled the cocaine and cannabis conspiracy and received wholesale quantities of the drug from those higher up the chain.

Ball ran the illegal trade, described as a "24/7 operation" which involved at the very least 5.25kg of cocaine, but which Judge Garrett Byrne reminded would have been far more.

Ventsislav Marginov, 51, was killed in Southport after the Champions League final
Ventsislav Marginov, 51, was killed in Southport after the Champions League final

Ball, 33, who was also convicted of assault in the tragedy which saw Mr Marginov killed, was the most senior member of the gang who "had an influence on those lower down the chain," prosecutor Ben Jones said.

"They controlled and dominated the cocaine trade in the Southport area," he added, with "pressure and coercion" exerted on people who ran up debts.

Vulnerable and desperate addicts were "cuckooed", meaning their homes were used by dealers as locations for drugs or cash to be stored.

Judge Byrne described how there were up to 511 contacts to one of the graft phones in a day as the "well-planned and profitable operation" ran for more than two years with the motive clearly financial gain.

A shift system was installed for those working within it, and drugs driven round to customers in Southport and surrounding districts like Ainsdale.

Two separate graft phone numbers were used and £20,000 cash was seized by police as they made arrests of those involved, including one single cocaine seizure worth about £20,000.

James Gelling on a roof hiding from police in Duke Street, Southport
James Gelling on a roof hiding from police in Duke Street, Southport

Judge Byrne added: "The operation inflicted very substantial harm on the public.

"The harm caused by this is obvious, and the terrible toll of those addicted, and the wider adverse affect on the community."

Ball, of Canning Road, Southport, admitted two counts of conspiring to supply cocaine and cannabis, with Gelling admitting the first charge.

Both men, who have been close friends since boys, submitted a basis of plea which was rejected by the Crown and so a trial of issue recently took place, which resulted in Judge Byrne not accepting many of their lessened claims about their role.

Ball, who has 30 previous convictions for 47 offences, was handed a 12 year sentence, which was reduced from 18 years due to his guilty plea.

Gelling was handed eight years, lessened from 12 years due to him admitting the offence.

Judge Byrne said he was not taking Gelling's past manslaughter sentence into account for today's hearing for killing Mr Marginov.

Paul Becker, for Gelling, said his client had taken part in a fifth of the drugs conspiracy before he was jailed for the fatal attack, and argued sentencing him for being part of the two year enterprise would be "unfair."

Mr Becker added that he had "spent the entire pandemic in prison, has enhanced status and no behavioural warnings."

Warrants were executed in Southport, Formby and the L13 area of Liverpool last October with ten men, aged 19-32 and one woman arrested and then later charged.

Some of these will be sentenced next week.

At the time, Sefton Superintendent Graeme Robson said: "Drug supply causes misery, an increase in negative role models with clear access to financial gains and an increase in crime by addicts to raise funds for drugs.

“Criminals don’t stop – even in the pandemic, they just had logistical issues and still found ways to adapt in the lockdown so that they could still deal drugs.

"These warrants were carried out to disrupt individuals who were acting as a group – and negatively affecting the community.

“We fully understand the scourge that drug dealing and the associated gang criminality has on our communities and we are determined to stamp it out.

“We have spent a considerable amount of time gathering information and intelligence in order for us to take this action to rid the streets of Class A and B drugs and the people who sell and distribute them.

“It’s also important that we are able to identify the vulnerable people in our communities who are taken advantage of by these gangs and give them the help that they need."

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