THE Mail can finally reveal how one of Hartlepool’s biggest drug-dealing gangs was snared through a stroke of luck and months of hard work.
Five members of a Hartlepool cartel were caged for a combined total of 26 years after they admitted being involved in a £400,000 cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine ring.
Now we can reveal the murky underworld they lived in after Daniel Weegram, who faced a trial in connection with the gang, was found not guilty of any involvement on Thursday.
The gang had enjoyed wild weekends in Newcastle during the height of their criminal activity, racking up bills of more than £1,000 in the plush Malmaison Hotel.
But while Craig Wilson, Adam Wilson, Lee McDonough, David Hall and James Murphy lived the high life, their criminal world was about to crumble around them.
A large-scale cannabis farm was found in Hutton Avenue, Hartlepool, in September last year by chance when a lead thief climbed up on roofs in the street.
Police knocked on numbers 50 and 52 as part of their inquiry –and discovered the semi-detached homes were full of drugs.
But the good fortune was only a starting point for detectives and it took them three months to trawl through phone records, receipts and the five men’s backgrounds before they could arrest and charge them all.
Detective Sergeant Daryll Tomlinson, of Hartlepool’s drugs unit, said: “We knew this was a large-scale production as the drugs were being packaged in a way that meant they weren’t meant directly for street dealers. There were hundreds of heat sealed packs ready to be used.
“This was high up in the food chain, and would supply other dealers to spread the drugs around. They were adulterating drugs there, cutting them and getting them ready to distribute. This was a big operation.
“It’s not a case of walking in and catching people red-handed as that’s not how they work at this level. It’s getting all the little things that add up and paint a picture of what is happening.”
Officers found Liverpudlian Murphy inside the Hutton Avenue drug factory during the searches.
But with Murphy not talking and having no clear links to the town and with little evidence about who else was involved, their stroke of fortune became a long and arduous probe.
Hall and McDonough were found to be renting the two houses and police found Hall still had all of his property at his mum’s house in Sheriff Street – posing the question of ‘why rent a big house and not live in it?’
McDonough was also found to have had a house in Stephen Street, which officers found to smell of cannabis and contain the remnants of the plants.
Their phone records were checked and the three men had been in constant contact and the two Wilsons, who are unrelated, also showed up frequently on their calls lists.
Forensic evidence put McDonough and Murphy in the Hutton Avenue houses. But the other men were all snared by their phone calls, relationships with their conspirators and paperwork.
Hall and Adam Wilson had both worked for Craig Wilson’s flooring company and Craig Wilson was found to have hired units, paid for equipment and given references to set up the farms.
The former boss of Hoda 26 Taxis was said to be the kingpin and arranged meetings in Newcastle where massive tabs would be racked up over the course of a few days.
And in another lucky break, police pulled over his car on the A19 shortly after the cannabis farm was uncovered as he was driving while using his mobile. A drug-growing manual was found in the cannabis smelling vehicle and the phone number he gave tallied up with one frequently found on the four other men’s phone records.
Det Sgt Tomlinson said: “The most anyone would admit to is growing cannabis. It wasn’t until the court case that they finally admitted responsibility.
“We were able to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and make them confess due to the weight of evidence against them.
“For example, we found an A4 ring binder in one of the houses containing a cannabis growing manual and on the cover was Craig’s name crossed out. It had obviously been used by him and he had brought it to the house. It’s those small things that bring it all together.”
During the raids in December, police seized Craig Wilson’s Audi 4x4, which he had been hiring for hundreds of pounds a month.
He lived in a large house in Relton Way, in the wealthy West Park area of town, and had two companies, a flooring firm under his own name and the taxi business.
He added: “Those who deal in drugs live a fragile lifestyle and we will strive to stop them using all methods at our disposal.”
Det Sgt Tomlinson is now urging the community to help in the war against dealers in the town.
“The people who know what is happening in a street most are the residents,” said Det Sgt Tomlinson.
“If they see something suspicious then give us a ring in complete confidence.
“We promise to follow up on any information we get and to disrupt those being a menace to society.”
The drugs unit’s 24-hour confidential hotline is (01642) 302181.