£3.5bn drug cutting business smashed

Seized barrels of cutting agent used in the �3.5bn operation.
Seized barrels of cutting agent used in the �3.5bn operation.
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A FYLDE coast man has been convicted of being at the heart of a multi-billion pound drug cutting ring to produce huge amounts of cocaine.

John Cawley, 31, of Forshaw Close, Fleetwood was brought in by ringleader Jamie Dale to help him import more than 36 tonnes of cutting agent before selling powder on to dealers at about £1,000 a barrel.

John Cawley

John Cawley

The staggering amounts involved could have been used to produce cocaine with a street value of £3.5bn.

Detectives who led the massive investigation codenamed Operation Junko, said this was a conservative estimate and could actually have been much more than that. The operation led to raids in Blackpool and elsewhere.

Chief investigating officer John Wright said: “The scale of their operation was remarkable.

“It’s fair to say that if someone has snorted cocaine since 2008, they have snorted some of Dale’s product.”

Dale, 32, of Claymere Avenue, Rochdale; Cawley (pictured) and Barry Hartley, 63, of Cog Lane, Burnley, were caught after an undercover operation by officers who marked stocks of chemicals bought by the trio.

They were found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to supply cocaine, diamorphine and amphetamine after a two-month trial at Leeds Crown Court – the first time the charges have been used to convict criminals selling cutting agents.

The court heard Dale and Cawley imported chemicals including benzocaine, lidocaine and procaine, which are commonly used to cut cocaine and also mixed with amphetamine and heroin.

There were also large importations of paracetamol and caffeine which are both common cutting agents for heroin.

At first they covered their tracks by the use of false identities in the names of Andrew Blomley and Richard Penrice, renting storage facilities in the false names, using mail and telephone forwarding services, paying for orders with anonymous cash deposits or fraudulent bank drafts and by using frequently changed unregistered mobile telephones.

However, evidence from a variety of sources – including mobile phone records – proved Dale and Cawley were behind the false identities.

Hartley – a long established drug dealer and a keen amateur chemist - is believed to have helped deliver the product and set the pair up with contacts in the criminal underworld.

As the operation grew, the gang’s activities made it increasingly difficult for them to continue using false identities and by summer 2007 they switched to using Dale’s own company, Bioflo, for further importations. This provided a ready address for deliveries and a bank account through which payments could be made.

At one time, the trio’s shipments of benzocaine – a low potency local anaesthetic used in dentistry and by vets – made up 20 per cent of the global demand for the chemical.

But detectives were already tracking the gang and had begun marking barrels they believed were being imported by the trio.

Those consignments were then connected to some of the largest drug busts in the UK in recent years.

In 2007, police raided two addresses in Blackpool, at Woodland Grove and Bamton Avenue, South Shore, and discovered large blocks of cocaine weighing almost 3kg as well as large drum containing 21.1kg of benzocaine and a blue scoop.

Officers knew the barrel had come from Bioflo so could link the criminals together. As a result of Operation Junko, more than 21 raids have been carried out across the UK including in Blackpool, Bristol, Bournemouth, Rotherham and Edinburgh.

Alun Milford, head of organised crime division at the Crown Prosecution Service, today told The Gazette the conviction would be a major blow for drug dealers.

He said: “This complex and lengthy investigation involved a large number of police forces and successful prosecution has broken this criminal chain near the start.“

Investigating officer Wright added: “These are convictions for conspiracy to supply class A drugs though the men were dealing in cutting agents.

“As far as SOCA is concerned, knowingly selling such chemicals to drug dealers makes you as guilty as the dealers themselves.”

The trio will be sentenced on Today.