A NORTH WEST gang behind a £100 milion drug importation conspiracy has been jailed for a total of 217 years following a successful investigaton by Titan, the region's organised crime unit.
The 23-strong gang, led by Warrington career criminal Richard Brookhouse, imported half a tonne of cocaine during a 12-month period.
Eighteen of them were sentenced at Warrington Crown Court this week. Five others will be sentenced next month.
The conspirators, who came from Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire, Leicestershire and West Yorkshire, used the drugs to supply other prominent drug dealers in towns and cities throughout the region.
Detectives from Titan seized massive amounts of cocaine, as well as heroin, when they intercepted several of the defendants in Essex after they returned from buying the drugs in Europe under the guise of a fishing trip to France.
Other defendants were arrested at a holiday park in Wirral where they had gone to divide up another consignment of drugs. They will be sentenced in March.
Richard Brookhouse masterminded the conspiracy while behind bars for previous drugs offences.
He was described in court as the 'controlling mind' of the conspiracy and used his contacts in the criminal underworld both in the UK and Europe to find people willing to bulk buy the drugs.
Brookhouse, 45, was aided by his wife, Diane, who drove him to meetings with fellow conspirators while he was on day release from prison.
The 42-year-old denied her role in the conspiracy and stood trial but in December a jury found her guilty of all three conspiracy charges.
She was described by prosecutors as a 'knowing and willing participant in her husband's criminal enterprise' and was said to have enjoyed an 'extravagant and indulgent lifestyle' as a result, receiving expensive handbags and a new car from him.
Andrew Wilde, aged 53 from Partington, Manchester, was the gang's tranport manager and organised the fishing trips to Europe that some of the other defendants went on to collect the drugs.
Detectives proved he used contacts in Germany to arrange the handover of drugs in Europe to other gang members, who then brought them back into the UK.
Financial investigators found that jobless Wilde had earned sufficient money to afford a second home (a static caravan), a Nissan Navarro pick-up truck and a luxury holiday to the Verde Islands a month before he was arrested.
Father and son team Paul and Steven Harwood from Urmston were arrested in Essex with a van full of drugs, having returned from a fishing trip in France.
Paul, 61, was involved in all seven trips, culminating in his arrest on April 6 near a coach park in Bicknacre, Essex, when drugs worth £12 million were found in his van - a seizure believed to be the biggest in Titan's history.
Steven, 36, only took part in the final fishing trip and acted as his father's driver. Prosecutors said he went on the trip knowing the purpose was to purchase drugs and bring them back into the UK.
Karl Glennon, aged 47, from Urmston, Manchester and Stephen Crane, aged 55, from Leicestershire also made trips abroad to collect the drugs under the direction of Wilde.
Carl Wall met Richard Brookhouse in prison and was described in court as being a 'major Merseyside drug dealer' who dealt in wholesale qunatities of import quality Class A drugs.
Detectives believe the majority of the drugs found in the van in Essex were destined for Wall and two other 'wholesalers' - Gerrard Mooney and Darren Williams.
Mooney, 31, from Liverpool, was arrested by police during the Grand National race at Aintree racecourse last April on the same day that the drugs were seized in Essex.
At the time he was arrested he was wearing a £5,000 Rolex watch and had £1000 in cash on him.
Williams, aged 39, also from Liverpool, was similarly involved in purchasing large quantities of the drugs brought back from the fishing trips.
The eight other defendants who pleaded guilty - including Bury brothers Omar and Ali Amin - were all found to have acted as dealers who on occasion bought large amounts of cocaine and heroin from the gang's hierachy to then sell for massive profits on the streets of towns and cities across the North-west.
Speaking after the hearing, Titan's head of operations, Detective Superintendent Jason Hudson, welcomed the lengthy prison sentences each defendant was now facing.
Detective Superintendent Hudson said: "This gang dealt in massive quantities of import-quality Class A drugs and to put them behind bars for many years is hugely satisfying for everyone who worked on this case.
"Police officers, lawyers and expert witnesses have worked tirelessly to bring this gang to justice and the prison sentences handed down reflect the seriousness of their crimes. The prison service also played a key role in our investigations into Richard Brookhouse's criminal activities.
"This is the second £100 million drugs conspiracy successfully investigated by Titan in the past year and demonstrates our capacity to go after some of the region's biggest drug dealers and most dangerous criminal gangs.
"Richard Brookhouse masterminded the importation of these drugs, using established criminals in Manchester and Liverpool to saturate the cocaine and heroin markets in towns and cities across the region.
"By systematically dismantling his gang, and by seizing such huge quantities of drugs, we have prevented criminals further lining their pockets on the back of the damage that heroin and cocaine cause in our communities."