Evidence gleaned from mobile phone records played a major part in bringing a £30m drugs gang to justice, police have revealed.
Two Hartlepool men dubbed the ringleaders of a multi-million pound drug dealing network were today jailed for more than 23 years.
Adrian Morfitt was jailed for 12 years, and David Garside for 11 years and eight months at Teesside Crown Court.
They are among 19 people, including nine from the town, being sentenced for their role in a cross-Pennine conspiracy to produce and supply vast quantities of cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis, with an estimated street value of up to £30m.
The leaders of the Liverpool end of the conspiracy also received double-figures sentences today, with other smaller figures to be sentenced next week.
After the sentencing, Detective Inspector Sarah Robinson revealed the extent of the police operation which led to the gang, who being caught.
This was one of the most sophisticated and difficult organised crime groups that I and my team have investigated.Detective Inspector Sarah Robinson
The covert investigation into the gang by Cleveland Police Organised Crime Unit began in August 2012.
“What became apparent during the investigation was that they had close criminal links with a notorious well-established organised crime group from Liverpool headed by Ian Stanton and Keith Watson, Stanton being the National Crime Agency’s most wanted.
“These two groups embarked on a joint enterprise to supply and manufacture controlled drugs on a massive commercial scale for huge financial gain.
“Cleveland Police OCU worked with Merseyside Police and the National Crime Agency (NCA) to disrupt and dismantle these highly sophisticated organised crime groups and bring to justice the heads of these crime groups and those who worked for them.
“This was one of the most sophisticated and difficult organised crime groups that I and my team have investigated.
“Tracking them required an extensive surveillance operation, both here in the UK and abroad.
“Their phones provided substantial incriminating evidence, which formed a large part of the prosecution’s case and highlighted the unprecedented scale of drug dealing.
“I also have no doubt that the combined work of Cleveland Police, NCA and other law enforcement agencies prevented the North East from becoming the home of illicit drugs laboratories and, ultimately and most importantly, kept the
people of Cleveland safe.
“I am extremely proud of the dedication and professionalism of the investigation team, which resulted in the successful prosecution of the members of these organised crime groups.
“The team worked in partnership with the Crown Prosecution Service and prosecuting counsel. The standard of evidence produced was of such a high standard that those charged with this conspiracy all pleaded guilty.
“The actual quantities of drugs recovered indicate that this was a network capable of sourcing and distributing significant quantities of high-grade drugs of import standard.
“The seizures, however, only reflect a snapshot of the trading that occurred within the period of this conspiracy.
“Dealers’ lists, emails and observations reveal that that these two groups between them operated a multi-million-pound business which was responsible for the wholesale distribution of hundreds of kilos of controlled drugs.
“Hopefully the sentences given out today to the key members of the group and those to follow next week will deter people from becoming involved in the drugs trade.
“Those sentences will not only be served by those going to prison, but will also have a huge impact upon their children and families. “
Drugs blight the everyday life of many people in our communities.
“I hope that today they are reassured that Cleveland Police will continue to bring to justice those at the very top of the drugs world and hold them to account for the misery that they cause.