THREE Merseyside men involved in a drugs and money-laundering network across the North have been jailed for a collective 49 years at Liverpool Crown Court.

Jordan Talbot, 30, headed the gang based in Bootle, Merseyside.

But he was caught by police at the Channel Tunnel last summer in a high-powered BMW as he attempted to flee the UK.

Liverpool Crown Court heard this week that Talbot and his associates used the encrypted messaging platform Encrochat, which was busted by police last year.

Talbot used the handle LittleNev while directing couriers to drive across the country. The couriers used cars which had been specially adapted with secret compartments for concealing drugs.

Police said the gang distributed more than 500kg of Class A drugs throughout the North West and North East of England between September 2019 and February 2020.

It is reported Talbot sent messages directing drugs to be sent to St Helens.

Talbot, from Formby, Merseyside, was jailed for 21 years and nine months at Liverpool Crown Court.

His associates James Ward, 33, who used the Encrochat name StableToast, and Jamie Carlton, 39, known as StaleSloth, were jailed for 15 years and nine months and 12 years respectively for their roles.

They all admitted conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and possessing criminal property. Talbot and Ward also admitted conspiracy to supply Class B drugs.

Jamie Carlton

Jamie Carlton

James Ward

James Ward

In July last year North West Regional Organised Crime Unit detectives carried out a series of warrants and made a number of arrests at properties in Bootle, Formby and Waterloo, Merseyside as part of the national Operation Venetic which targets criminality and Class A drug supply.

Messages analysed in April 2020 as part of Operation Venetic – the UK investigation into in to the encrypted messaging platform EncroChat, provided evidence of the drug dealing operation.

Between September 2019 and February 2020 it is believed they were part of a Bootle-based organised crime group who were involved in the distribution of more than of 500kg of Class A drugs across the North.

On Monday July, 20 2020 Talbot was arrested at the Channel Tunnel in a high-powered BMW as he attempted to flee the UK. Officers seized his vehicle, around £3,000 in cash and a number of mobile telephones.

Following a search of a property in Bootle, officers seized several thousand pounds in cash and numerous mobile telephones.

Talbot, who was the leader of the Organised Crime Group (OCG) used "trusted couriers" to drive up and down the country in vehicles which he had bought and specially adapted to contain secret hiding places to conceal the Class A drugs and cash.

Following his arrest, detectives arrested two of the couriers and recovered their vehicles, locating the sophisticated hideaways in the vehicles.

In a statement the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit Detective Chief Inspector Jason Pye said the gang "mistakenly" thought that by using EncroChat they were "untouchable" but they now pay the price for his actions.

He added: “These are significant sentences which reflect the extent of the conspiracy that these men were involved in.

"Together with our partners, we're committed to continuing our fight against those involved in serious organised crime to make the communities within the North West safer.”