Gang who sold cocaine and cannabis on 'commercial scale' in Lancashire jailed
A gang has been jailed for a total of more than 60 years after supplying drugs on a commercial scale into the North West.
Operation Florence was launched last year (2020) following concerns raised by residents in Darwen about drug use by children in the area and worries over youngsters being exploited into supplying illegal substances to clear debts.
Police said the head of the gang, Usman Akhter, controlled a sophisticated network bringing hundreds of kilos of cocaine and cannabis into the region.
The gang used the façade of a car sales business - Burnley-based Elite and Prestige run by Akhter's girlfriend Jessica Humphreys - to avoid detection, provide vehicles for criminal activity and to explain large deposits of cash.
Trusted and high-level members of the gang also used encrypted mobile phones - known as EncroChat - which they believed would mask their conversations from the police.
Warrants were executed at 25 addresses - including properties in Darwen, Blackburn and Northwich in Cheshire - in May and June.
A large quantity of suspected cocaine and cannabis was recovered during the raids, with officers also seizing a number of vehicles and weapons.
While many of the properties used by the gang in the UK were "unobtrusive and modest", a villa in Marbella showed the more lavish trappings of the conspiracy.
Besides Akhter, other main players included Shaheed Virmani who supplied and received large amounts of cannabis and cocaine.
Marbella-based Liam Martyn was also involved in the supply of drugs from Spain to the UK.
Martyn was shot in Marbella in May 2020 and arrested in Plymouth while on the run.
Insp Martin Melvin, from the East Exploitation Team, said: "We are committed to tackling and disrupting drug-dealing activity and protecting vulnerable members of society.
"This operation was launched directly on the back of concerns raised by members of the public and I would encourage anyone concerned about criminal activity in their area to contact the police, knowing that we will act on that information and take the appropriate action."
Anyone with concerns about drug-dealing or any other criminal activity in their area can call police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
Alternatively, independent charity Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers-uk.org.
Defendants (sentenced at Preston Crown Court)
- Usman Akhter, 37, Sarah Street, Darwen. Conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. 13 years
- Shaeed Virmani, 28, Warren Drive, Swinton. Conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. 11 years
- Liam Martyn, 27, Barnes Avenue, Dronfield, Derbyshire. Conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. Seven years
- Tariq Ajaib, 50, Sarah Street, Darwen. Conspiracy to supply cannabis. Four years and six months
- Ardit Rrahmani, 22, Astbury Chase, Darwen. Conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. Six years nine months
- Rory Compton, 31, Ash Grove, Darwen. Conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis. Six years
- Joseph Ginley, 36, Milking Lane, Darwen. Conspiracy to supply cocaine. Six years and four months
- James Burrows, 23, Plantation Road, Blackburn. Conspiracy to supply cannabis and being concerned in the supply of cocaine. 12 months suspended
- Kieran McKenna, 37, Griffin Close, Burnley. Conspiracy to supply cocaine. Two years suspended
- Ellis Gorman, 28, Cross Barn Walk, Darwen. Possession with intent to supply cocaine. Four years
- Jessica Humphreys, 22, Domenica Avenue, Darwen. Being concerned in the supply of cannabis. Community order
- Liam Parker, 28, Atlas Street, Darwen. Possession with intent to supply cocaine and cannabis. Three years and ten months.
A further eight people will be sentenced in October.
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