A gang involved in the importation of over 15 tons of cocaine – with an estimated street value of £1.59 billion – into the country has today been jailed.
Six people connected to the plot, which involved importing the Class A drug from the Netherlands hidden in pallets of frozen chicken, were given prison terms totalling 58 years at Sheffield Crown Court today (10 November 2023).
The offending took place between September 2021 and December 2022 and came to light following an investigation by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit (YHROCU).
Officers from the YHROCU seized 311 kilos of cocaine, estimated to be worth £31million, and 35 kilos (£7 million) of methylamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, from addresses in Leeds and Ravensthorpe.
Further enquiries established that the cocaine had been brought into the country between 23 March 2022 and 15 December 2022 hidden within pallets of frozen chicken imported to the UK.
A total of 318 pallets of chicken were imported, inside which it is estimated there was and estimated 15.9 tons of cocaine, with an estimated value of £1.59 billion.
The court was told that Leeds man Stephen Rayner played a leading role in directing and controlling several drug and cash couriers.
His sister Cherie-Anne Rayner and her partner Liam Harrington, also from Leeds, used their home on Flaxton Street in Beeston as a warehouse, where they weighed and re-packaged the drugs.
Officers seized 132 kilos of cocaine, valued at £13 million and 35 kilos of methylamphetamine, valued at £7 million found in a locked bedroom in their home in September last year.
Cherie-Anne Rayner and Harrington were instructed by Stephen Rayner to supply large-scale quantities of class A controlled drugs to people on residential streets near to their home.
They also kept a detailed list of the amounts of drugs they supplied, on which the fingerprints of Stephen Rayner, Cherie-Anne Rayner and Harrington were found.
Brandon Maan, from Dewsbury, worked as a drugs and cash courier for the gang and would often be accompanied on drug runs by his partner Megan Budden from Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury.
Maan was instructed by Stephen Rayner to deliver and collect huge amounts of class A drugs and cash to and from locations all over the UK.
Budden allowed Maan to use her home at The Crescent, Dewsbury, as a drug warehouse from where, on the 10th November 2022, officers seized 58 kilos of cocaine, valued at £5.8 million.
Drugs runner Steven Gibson, from Glasgow, was trusted to collect large quantities of drugs from Redditch in the West Midlands where they were imported to from abroad.
His van was then loaded with hundreds of kilos of cocaine which he would use to supply other couriers.
On 15th December last year, Gibson’s vehicle was seen leaving the warehouse unit in Summer Street, Redditch, where the cocaine was collected and was seen meeting fellow drugs courier Darren Hunter, also from Glasgow. Holdalls were taken from Gibson’s van and put into the boot of Hunter’s Toyota Corolla.
Gibson was subsequently stopped by police with three large holdalls containing 75 kilos of cocaine, valued at £7.5 million, in the rear.
Hunter was stopped on the M6 and found to have 40 kilos of cocaine, estimated to be worth £4 million in the vehicle.
Police officers then attended the Redditch warehouse where they found Tabrez Hussain along with a forklift truck and pallets of frozen chicken.
Hussain’s role involved removing the cocaine from the boxes and putting it into large holdalls, before loading them into Gibson’s vehicle.
A legitimate Dutch haulage company was used to deliver the drugs from overseas unaware of the cocaine hidden within the consignments.
Between 23 March 2022 and 15 December 2022 the firm made 34 deliveries of frozen chicken to the Redditch unit, totalling 318 pallets.
It is estimated that each pallet contained 50 kilos of cocaine, giving an estimated total weight of cocaine as 15.9 tons.
The street value has been estimated at £1.59 billion.
Appearing before Sheffield Crown Court for sentencing today:
Stephen Rayner, aged 31, of Scargill Grange, Leeds, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and methylamphetamine, class A controlled drugs, was jailed for 20 years.
Cherie-Anne Rayner, 30, of Flaxton Street, Leeds, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Cocaine and Methamphetamine, class A controlled drugs was jailed for 15 years.
Brandon Maan, 23, of Churchbank Way, Dewsbury, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, a class A controlled drug will be sentenced at a later date.
Steven Gibson, 41, of Belsyde Avenue, Glasgow who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, a class A controlled drug was jailed for 12 years..
Darren Hunter, 30, of Queenslie Street, Glasgow, who pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply Cocaine, a class a controlled drug was jailed for six years.
Tabrez Hussain, 40, of Cuthbert Road, Birmingham, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, a class A controlled drug was jailed for will be sentenced at a later date.
Liam Harrington, 39, of Flaxton Street, Leeds, who pleaded guilty to assisting an organised crime group was jailed for three years.
Megan Budden, 23, of The Crescent, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, who pleaded guilty to assisting an organised crime group and jailed for two years.
Speaking after the sentencing, Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Al Burns, who led the investigation for YHROCU, said:
“The excellent work by the investigation team led to the seizure of a huge amount of illegal drugs, taking them away from the streets of Yorkshire and Humberside and other areas across the country where they were destined to be delivered.
“In terms of value and quantity, it is without doubt the biggest drugs investigation we have conducted and is believed to be the largest prosecution of its kind in the country.”
“We estimated that this organised crime group imported over 15 tons of cocaine into the country and I have no doubt that, had we not intervened and broken up their enterprise, they would have imported much more.”
“Evidence showed that this group were involved in supplying drugs over a prolonged period of time, causing damage to people’s lives and would have caused so much harm to our communities.
“I’m pleased that the sentences reflect this and will hope they will serve as a deterrent to others who are involved in trafficking drugs across the Yorkshire and Humber region and beyond.
“Breaking up these organised crime gangs and bringing the individuals involved with them to justice is a priority for the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit.”
This post is based on a press release issued by West Yorkshire Police
Photo: Cherie-Anne Rayner and Liam Harrington of Flaxton Street, Beeston were jailed
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