A GANG who ran a heroin and cocaine empire known as the 'Scouse Porky Line' by hiding it in car batteries and gift bags to smuggle it across the country have been put behind bars.

Eight of the group, which was led by Thomas Garcia, 26, from Blackdown Grove, Parr, St Helens and James Brown, (aka ‘Scouse Porky’), 31, from Centenary Close in Liverpool, pleaded guilty to their parts in the two conspiracies following an investigation by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU).

The remaining two men were found guilty at a trial last July.

St Helens Star:

James Brown - aka Scouse Porky

During the trial the jury heard how the group’s "couriers", which included vulnerable adults, would make the 500 mile round trip from Bournemouth to Liverpool and back to deliver cash and collect drugs, sometimes staying for just 40 minutes before heading back down south.

The group started out transporting the drugs and cash concealed in car battery packs, but after Richie McDonald, 35, from Granville Road in Poole, was arrested they changed their tactics, instead using gift wrapped boxes and gift bags to hide their goods.

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At one stop check in Liverpool, £25,000 cash was seized which had been hidden in a gift wrapped box.

This caused the group to change their tactics again.

This time, ‘fixer’ Olatunde Ademuyiwa, 31, from Purbeck Road in Bournemouth, arranged for a company to transport a VW Golf used by Thomas Garcia and James Brown to Liverpool on the back of a low loader where it was replaced with a Ford Mondeo before returning to Bournemouth.

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Stephen McDonald and Shaun Lewis were awaiting its arrival and, despite trying to run off, were arrested by SW ROCU officers. When the vehicle was searched, £100,000 worth of heroin and £50,000 worth of cocaine were found concealed inside the boot space.

Detective Inspector Adrian Hawkins from the SW ROCU said: “Led by Thomas Garcia and James Brown, this group went all out to try and avoid detection and keep their ‘Scouse Porky Line’ running, exploiting vulnerable adults to transport their drugs and cash along the way.

“They were regularly exchanging between 250 and 300 messages a day with drug users in Dorset, which shows the scale of their supply and the harm they were causing.

"All of this was managed from their homes in Merseyside – and even at one point while they travelled around Europe.

“The successful conviction of all 10 – including early guilty pleas from the key players – shows the strength of the evidence we secured against them, despite their best efforts, by working closely with the police forces at both ends of the ‘county line’.”

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Dilworth, of Dorset Police, said: “Dorset Police will not tolerate county line drug dealers who attempt to infiltrate our local communities and prey on vulnerable people.

“We will work tirelessly with partners and other law enforcement agencies to protect these communities and bring those involved to justice.”

Merseyside Superintendent Graeme Robson, Area Commander for Sefton area, said: “This crime group, like many before them, saw an opportunity to take their criminal business to areas they thought were a risk-free route to easy money. Today’s sentences show how wrong they were.

“Forces increasingly work together to share intelligence, carry out joint operations and ensure that borders are no obstacle to justice. Wherever in the country criminals attempt to operate, Merseyside Police and our partner forces and agencies will be there to investigate, and remove the risk and harm from whichever communities are affected.

“The issue of County Lines is uppermost in people’s minds at the moment and we want to keep it that way. Recognise the signs and tell police or Crimestoppers if you suspect someone vulnerable is being criminally exploited. We will do the rest.”

The main members of the organised crime group were arrested in simultaneous raids in Merseyside and Dorset in November 2018, including Thomas and Sean Garcia, James Brown and David Murphy.

St Helens Star:

Thomas Garcia was sentenced to ten years, as was Brown.

Murphy, 34, from Stranraer Road, Wigan, was handed five years in custody, plus a further eight months to run concurrently for possession of a stun gun. Sean Garcia was sentenced to six years in prison.

Stephen McDonald, 38, from Hanlon Close and Shaun Lewis, 27, from Leybourne Avenue – both in Bournemouth – and Richie McDonald, 35, from Granville Road in Poole, also pleaded guilty to both conspiracies in February 2019. Stephen McDonald was sentenced to eight years, while Lewis got seven years and four months and Richie McDonald was sentenced to 32 months in custody.

Dealer Carl Norton, 41, from Turbary Park Road, Bournemouth, changed his plea to guilty mid-trial. He was sentenced to 3.5 years for the drugs conspiracies and 18 months for two burglaries.

Olatunde Ademuyiwa, 31, from Purbeck Road in the West Hill area of Bournemouth and dealer Craig Biddle, 27, of no fixed abode, were convicted last July following a trial at Bournemouth Crown Court.

Ademuyiwa was sentenced to eight years in prison and Biddle’s sentencing was deferred.

Natasha Richardson, 49, from Russell Road, Bournemouth, was found not guilty of both conspiracies.