Organised crime gangs from Merseyside who exploited vulnerable people - including children as young as 14 - to deal drugs in Widnes have been sentenced to a total of more than 180 years behind bars.
Twenty-nine men and seven women were sentenced this week at Liverpool Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs. Marney Styles was found guilty on Wednesday 20 June at Liverpool Crown Court of conspiring to supply heroin and crack cocaine.
The court heard how nine gangs from Liverpool groomed, manipulated and exploited adults and children to deal heroin and crack cocaine on the streets of Widnes.
The callous gangs would seek out vulnerable members of the community, take over their home as a base to deal drugs and coerce them into living a life indebted to them - a term known as ‘cuckooing’. Being fearful of the gang’s reputation and left feeling frightened and bullied they would become trapped into their world with no way out often ending up becoming reliant on the organised crime group who controlled their lives.
The Shotty team, including Stevie Holloway and the Mclelland brothers - Ryan and Michael, were part of a Liverpool based drug gang who controlled the supply of crack cocaine and heroin into Widnes.
They kept their drug dealing under the radar by renting a flat in Sidings Court, Widnes, to use as a base and would supply the drugs directly themselves rather than using local drug users. Their criminal activity would often take place at a nearby children’s play area.
On occasions the staff at the letting agency for Sidings Court attempted to visit the property but would find it barricaded with a fridge. One member of the gang, Sean McClune, was arrested in Widnes with over a thousand pounds in cash, drugs and a knife in his possession.
The court heard how the leaders of the Ricco gang, Joshua Quinton and Joel Evans, cuckooed the occupants of an address on Arley Drive, Widnes, in order to use the house as a base to supply and control drugs within the community. Their class A drug dealing would often take place on playing fields close to the cuckooed address often used by young children.
They would also travel to Exeter to supply heroin and crack cocaine, remaining there for up to a week before returning to Liverpool.
The cold-hearted Jay team controlled by the Swinnerton brothers - Jordan and Dylan , supplied heroin and crack cocaine from the home of a drug user. They would deal drugs themselves and used vulnerable members of the community including a 14-year-old girl they had coerced to carry out drug dealing on their behalf while they sat safely in a house nearby.
The court was also told how Sarah Hall, one of the gang members, dealt heroin and crack cocaine with a young child nearby.
The Jay gang also supplied drugs in Northwich under a different name known to local drug users as the Freddy drug line. In September last year, Dylan Swinnerton, Jack Storey and Michael Price, wielding a running chainsaw, were charged with affray following a confrontation with another group of men in the town.
Harrison controlled the brad gang and often supplied class A drugs from his car with a small child in the back. On 27 September a warrant executed at his house resulted in almost £10,000 in cash and drugs seized.
The court was told how the financial gain each individual gang stood to make from the supply of heroin and crack cocaine would run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Hear from Detective Superintendent Aaron Duggan, Head of Crime at Cheshire Constabulary:
David Keane, police and crime commissioner for Cheshire, added:
“I would like to commend the work of officers who have worked tirelessly on this investigation to dismantle this drugs ring at its core and bring its perpetrators to justice.
“The exploitation of anyone in our communities, and in particular vulnerable children, will not be tolerated by police in Cheshire. Every day officers from the force are reacting to intelligence provided by communities to seize drugs, in many cases before the criminals have the opportunity to deal them.
“I would encourage anyone in Cheshire who has suspicions of drug activity or other types of exploitation taking place in their community to report it to Cheshire Police, and I would like to reassure them that they’ll be given protection from officers and partner agencies to ensure they’re no longer in a vulnerable position.”
James Allison, Senior Crown Prosecutor with MerseyCheshire Crown Prosecution Service has worked closely with Cheshire Police over months to bring this prosecution to court.
On sentencing, he said:
"This brings to an end the increasingly violent and dangerous drugs trade operated by these people.
“The tactics they used are well known; they bring drugs from a large city into small towns and then coerce vulnerable and intimidated locals to help them ply their trade.
“It’s a nasty, vicious and destructive business that causes misery for the people who get caught up in it and the innocent bystanders who live in the areas they move into.
“These dealers operated out of residential properties, even near a children’s play area and some had children with them when they completed a deal.
“These people don’t think they have to abide by the rules and regulations that the rest of us do. But they’re wrong and a day like today shows that they can only get away with it for so long.
“Cheshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service worked together for months on this and the strength of the case is proven in the fact that so many of them pleaded guilty with just one insisting on her innocence. Now she has been found guilty and they are all in jail.”
Halton Borough Council’s Executive Board Member for Community Safety, Cllr Dave Cargill said:
“This is a fine example of all agencies working together to achieve a goal. The people in these areas can feel a lot safer tonight knowing these people are behind bars.”