Undercover cops bugged a drug baron’s luxury car to crack a £30million cocaine, amphetamine, and cannabis ring.
Police listened in as Hartlepool men David Garside and Adrian Morfitt sat in Garside’s Audi Q7 talking about drug consignments, which they referred to as “vans”.
Details of the operation – which involved two organised crime groups based in Hartlepool and Merseyside – came to light for the first time at Teesside Crown Court yesterday.
Nineteen defendants – including eight men from Hartlepool – are being sentenced for their role in the cross-Pennine network.
They were nailed by police after a two and a half -year investigation in which police watched senior gang members hold meetings and arrange deliveries of large quantities of drugs to the North East.
Prosecuting barrister Peter Makepeace told the court: “This case concerns the operations and inter-relations of two organised crime groups in Merseyside in the North West and Hartlepool.
Mr Makepeace said the evidence included phone messages and undercover police surveillance. He said the seizures “are but a snapshot of a sustained and persistent pattern of dealing, principally amphetamine and cocaine but also cannabis on a vast scale”.
Garside and Morfitt, both 30, were linked to the trafficking of an estimated £19million worth of amphetamine between Hartlepool and Newcastle in August 2012.
The court heard a courier was observed receiving 12 kilograms of Class B drug amphetamine, worth up to £1.3million from Hartlepool man 34-year-old Paul Rudd.
The handover took place in a car park in Hart village after earlier phone contact also involving Garside and Morfitt. Analysis of the man’s mobile phone indicated he had made 13 previous visits to the area, which the prosecution say were weekly collections – putting the potential street value of previous deals atabout £19million.
Morfitt and Garside were also linked to the seizure of 35 kilos of cannabis worth £215,000 and 1.25 kilos of high pure cocaine from Carl Miller, of Hartlepool, in October 2012.
Police were again watching and the court heard Miller, who was later jailed for three years and 10 months, had been acting under the direction of Garside and Morfitt. They were heard admitting involvement in a secret recording.
Mr Makepeace said: “They express their satisfaction that the police could not have known of their involvement or they would have faced charges of conspiracy.”
The court heard undercover police also watched Garside and Morfitt meet leaders of the Liverpool-based dealers at Liverpool Docks, Wetherby and Scotch Corner. Mr Makepeace said Garside and Morfitt were “paranoid” about being watched, suspecting any vehicle they saw more than once.
They hired cars for visits to Merseyside and used cheap “pay as you go” mobiles.
They and Liverpool gang members referred to kilos of cocaine as ‘van’. Referring to one bugged conversation, Mr Makepeace said: “Garside asked Morfitt who the van is down to and makes reference to another 10 coming in.”
In another conversation recorded in Garside’s car after a meeting with the Liverpool dealers in March 2013, Garside appears to brag about his and his friend’s dealing abilities, saying: “You won’t meet a better set of lads. Round our way you’re as safe as houses.” Morfitt is heard to say: “I just want as much work as you can get us, mate.”
The court heard Garside and Morfitt as well as Keith Watson, 38, and Christopher Evans, 51, of the North West group also used encrypted Blackberry messaging devices that could be wiped.
Seven members from the North West, including Watson, were arrested and charged after the discovery of an amphetamine laboratory on Merseyside in November 2013.
Six kilos of the drug were recovered along with 100 litres of amphetamine oil which could have produced 270 kilos worth up to £2.7million.
And 80 kilos of amphetamine, linked to Morfitt and Hartlepool man Richard Ryan, 35, were found at a house in Liverpool on January 31 last year. It had the potential to mix the drug into 200 kilos worth £2million on the street.
Ryan had gone there to help mix it but bailed out after spotting undercover officers. He had been given a lift to hire a car for the trip by Morfitt.
• The hearing continues.
Eight men from Hartlepool are before the court for sentence.
Seven have previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A or B drugs between February 2012 and June 2014.
They are; Adrian Morfitt, 30, of Caistor Drive; David Garside, 30, of Hampstead Gardens, Richard Ryan, 35, of Marlowe Road; Neal Gutteridge, 30, of Gower Walk; Darren Crossley, 31, of Galsworthy Road; Paul Rudd, 34, of Arncliffe Gardens, and Mark Williamson, 37, of Marlowe Road.
Graham Mitchell, 50, of Danby Grove, admitted possessing criminal property.