Four East Midlands men have been jailed following the highest value drug seizure ever made by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
At Burnley Crown Court on Friday, April 20, Frank Eaton, 47, of Bag Lane in Ashbourne, was the last of eight men to be sentenced, receiving a term of 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin.
He was part of a drug smuggling empire run in connection with the seven others sentenced to a total of 103 years at Preston Crown Court on Friday, March 9.
They included Everton Bailey, 57, of Mandarin Way, Derbyshire, and David Reece, 55, of Ludlam Avenue in Nottinghamshire, who each received 16 year terms, as well as Jason Starmer, 42, formerly of Burton-on-Trent, who received a 21-year sentence with the additional charge of possessing a firearm.
Detective Inspector Tony Norman, of GMP’s Serious Organised Crime Group said: “These men operated one of the largest international drug importation networks that GMP has ever investigated with the seizure of over £66million worth of drugs at Hull port - a key moment in our operation.
“Their offending didn’t just have a local impact on Greater Manchester; it reached across the UK and will no doubt have had a ripple effect in mainland Europe where their money was lining the pockets of crime bosses.”
The group were involved in a sophisticated international distribution network which brought vast amounts of the class A drugs into the UK from Belgium, via the Netherlands.
Bailey was the main distributor for the East Midlands, Eaton ran West Midlands operations, and Starmer acted as the principal go-between connecting them with Julian Solomon, who headed up the North West network.
The drugs would be concealed in agricultural equipment and within the trailers carrying them in Tongeren before being driven to Rotterdam in the back of HGVs and setting sail to Hull.
From there, the drugs would be transported to a Derbyshire distribution base operated by Reece and Eaton, who had both previously served prison time in Belgium for drugs importation charges.
Unbeknown to the group, GMP was conducting a covert operation into their activities and on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, a Scania HGV was stopped at the King George Docks in Hull by UK Border Force officials.
A search of the vehicle saw officers seize approximately 58 kilograms of cocaine and almost 84kg of heroin - a combined street value of approximately £66,502,000.
Telephone records show that when the drugs didn’t show up at their intended location, Starmer, Bailey, and Solomon frantically attempted to contact Eaton.
Suspecting that their international associates had ripped them off and kept the drugs for themselves, Eaton, Solomon and Starmer flew to Belgium the following day for an emergency meeting.
Upon his return to the UK, Solomon was arrested and remanded into custody at HMP Forest Bank where he was visited on May 26, 2017, by Starmer and Graham Rawling.
The following day Starmer was observed by police having a panicked meeting with Rawling and James Newhall at a pub car park near Ormskirk, Lancashire, where they exchanged phones and papers.
He was then arrested in the St Helens area and found to have thousands of pounds in cash and a kilogram of cocaine in his car. A search of his home address resulted in a firearm and ammunition being recovered, along with large quantities of cash.
Eaton, who did not return to the UK following the crisis meeting, was arrested in Belgium by local authorities and extradited into GMP custody while the trial for his seven co-conspirators was ongoing.
Det Insp Norman said: “We know how much misery local dealers can inflict on people’s lives however men like Eaton, Reece, Solomon and Starmer are the ones who are responsible for supplying those local dealers, enabling them to blight our communities and flood our streets with drugs.
“Our work to tackle local criminality is very important and alongside that we will continue to target those who operate at the very top so that we can shatter these organised crime networks and strangle the supply at a local level.”
He added: “This truly was an international team effort and I would like to thank the UK Borders Agency, the National Crime Agency and the Belgian authorities for the key support they have given us in achieving this outcome.
“I want the result today to send a clear message. It doesn’t matter how high up you are in a criminal outfit, if you are involved in the drugs supply trade in Greater Manchester, our incredibly dedicated team will ensure that you face prosecution and are brought to justice.”
Southport resident Rawling, and Ormskirk resident Newhall were sentenced to ten years and six years, nine months, respectively.
Gerrard Young, from Manchester, was sentenced to nine years.