A dad-of-five locked up over a colossal drug empire was a respected mental health nurse in Liverpool.

Alan and John Tobin supplied hundreds of kilos of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ketamine from Merseyside to organised crime gangs across the UK.

Customers included the notorious Cullen gang - backed by deadly weapons including an AK47 - and firms led by drug bosses Jamie Oldroyd and Lee Stoba.

The Tobins used St Helens cage fighter Robbie 'The Bear' Broughton as an enforcer to collect debts and oversee the movement of an estimated £30m in dirty cash.

But their business suffered a fatal blow when officers swooped on a van containing 186kg of 90% pure cocaine, valued at £20m, as it travelled up the M6.

Police said it was the largest ever seizure of cocaine on land in the UK.

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

However, when Alan's lawyer addressed the judge, he claimed the 52-year-old actually became embroiled in the underworld to help support his children.

Liverpool Crown Court heard Alan, of Regency Park, Widnes, had three convictions for four offences, but the last one was for a "petty" offence in 1993.

Julian Nutter, defending, said there was "another side" to the family man, who "had worked hard all his life, honestly".

Mr Nutter said: "He left school in 1986 with a couple of O Levels, started work as a forklift truck driver, eventually worked in Liverpool Fruit Market, the Royal Mail sorting office in Hatton Gardens, and whilst there, to his great credit, developed an interest in mental health nursing.

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

"Until his arrest he's been working as a well respected mental health nurse.

"He initially got a job with Merseyside Care Trust and after a few years in the post was seconded to Edge Hill University, where he gained a diploma in mental health nursing.

"That's what he's done ever since, he's worked in acute mental health nursing since 1987 and was working at the Rathbone Low Secure Unit, a low risk mental health unit when he was arrested.

"Throughout his time, he's been at the very sharp end of mental health nursing. Your honour in my respectful submission should take into account, on a relatively low income, in modest employment, he put something into society.

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"It all begs the question, how on earth does somebody like that, who has got such a finer side to them, become involved in drug crime on a grand scale?

"Well, what happened was over the years, he had a number of relationships. He's ended up with five children, who he continues to support and that support took a large amount of his income, being a mental health nurse.

"He made the big mistake of deciding to supplement that income with small scale drug dealing and became drawn in to become involved on the scale that you've heard about today.

Liverpool's criminal underworld exposed

"That's no excuse, but suffice to say there is another side to this man, a decent side, who has put something into society, and somebody really who having put something in over many years, yes it's payback time today for what he's done on the drug dealing side, but there ought to be a degree of consideration given to him to reflect that compelling mitigation, having sat there, hour after hour, with people in a desperate position, in the lowest point of their lives, trying to help them, for relatively low income.

"He's not been holding onto that job simply as cover, that's not the case, he kept that job because it put something back. That's the other side to him.

"That's how he clung to how his morality applied, how he could look himself in the mirror.

"He's caused a massive amount of embarrassment and stress to his family. He deeply regrets what he's done and through me he wishes to apologise to them and the public at large, with a heartfelt truth that is, he is remorseful for what he's done, he's disgraced all that know him and trust him. He is deeply sorry."

Prosecutors said the Tobins ran a "criminally sophisticated, highly profitable and well-organised business" for more than four years, between 2016 and 2020, often using specially adapted vehicles to transport drugs and cash.

John Tobin, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot.
John Tobin, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot

John, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot, played a key role in the transportation of the £20m stash of cocaine from Kent to Warrington in the summer of 2018.

Detectives stopped Jamie Simpson driving the van, with the drugs secreted under floorboards and in a specially adapted "hide", in the early evening of Thursday, August 2.

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

Nicola Daley, prosecuting, said enquiries revealed just less than a week earlier on July 28, John 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".

Stories from Liverpool Crown Court

Some of the Tobins' trade was revealed in the EncroChat hack last year and uncovered as part of Operation Venetic.

Alan, aka "CapeRocket", and John, aka "SlightDrake", discussed deals involving 73kg of heroin, 83kg of cocaine, 57kg of ketamine and 78kg of cannabis between March and May 2020.

The Tobins both admitted conspiring to supply all four drugs.

Judge Byrne said: "These types of drugs cause devastation to individuals and to society generally, and we witness this in court, in this court certainly, on an almost daily basis.

"Those who are unfortunate enough to become addicted to these drugs ruin their own lives and those of their families.

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"They often commit offences themselves to fund their habit. Society must pick up the human and other costs of this.

"Victims of your conduct of course include your own families, who will be without your support for a considerable period of time."

The judge jailed Alan for 20 years and John - who the court heard also has a young family - for 19 years and eight months.

John's term was reduced because he had spent 110 days - the equivalent of a 220-day sentence - on remand over a discontinued matter.

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