Burnley man jailed for his role in multi-million pound drugs gang

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A BURNLEY man who was part of a gang involved in a multi-million pound scheme to import a cocaine cutting agent into the UK has been jailed for five years.

Chris Pounder (26), of Parkinson Street, was involved with the organised crime group which brought more than 600 kilos of benzocaine powder into the country from China.

Benzocaine, a local anaesthetic used by vets and dentists, is illegally used in its powder form by drug dealers to dilute cocaine, increasing profits.

Police estimated the adulterated powder could have eventually had a street value of over £48m.

Pounder admitted assisting in the supply of Class A drugs and was jailed for five years at Preston Crown Court.

The gang, which had a supply chain stretching across Lancashire, Manchester, Derbyshire and the south of England, were jailed for a total of 42 and a half years.

Preston Crown Court heard packages were delivered to Burnley and Ripley, Derbyshire, which contained large amounts of benzocaine imported from China by 31-year-old Clifford Hall, of Whaddon Way, Bletchley, Milton Keynes.

The packages were then transported via Manchester back down to Milton Keynes.

Lancashire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit’s launched Operation Bramble to tackle the gang and worked with colleagues in Derbyshire Constabulary, the national Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the UK Border Agency to smash the supply chain.

Searches were carried out in March and September 2011, with officers finding various drugs at Hall’s home. In June 2011 traces of benzocaine, cocaine and other drugs were found following raids at addresses in Manchester. Following a trial at Preston Crown Court, Hall was found guilty of assisting in the supply of class A drugs, possession of a class B with intent to supply, possession of a class C drug with intent to supply and possession of a class C drug. Appearing again, he was sentenced to seven years.

Eight people from Derbyshire were jailed for 30 years for various drugs offences and two more were handed suspended jail sentences for their involvement.

Detective Inspector Graham Gallagher, of Lancashire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “The gang imported at least 485 kilos of benzocaine into the UK. This is a substantial amount – almost 20 times the annual importation amount of the leading industry user.

“When cut, this meant the gang were responsible for potentially over £48m. worth of adulterated cocaine hitting our streets, creating untold misery.

“Drugs cause damage to our communities; they blight our neighbourhoods and fuel other crime, with burglaries and robberies often carried out to fund a drug habit.”

He branded hall and his associates “greedy” and said they tried to maximise profits by bringing cutting agents into the country.

Det. Insp. Gallagher added: “They are now facing time in jail and their sentences show the determination of our Serious and Organised Crime Unit when it comes to identifying professional, organised and lifestyle criminals who cause harm to our communities and then putting them behind bars.”