Five men jailed for total of 24 years over UK-wide drug operation
Five men who admitted involvement in a UK wide drug smuggling operation worth more than a million pounds have been jailed for a total of 24 years.
Jailing the five at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said it had been an "organised commercial operation" designed to smuggle large quantities of both class A and B drugs into Northern Ireland.
Sentences of six years were handed to 32-year-old Barry Kavanagh, from Belmont Avenue West in Belfast and Liam Young (35) both admitted being concerned in the supply of class and A and B drugs while four year terms were handed to 31-year-old Keith Laffin, Christopher McNally (28) and Gary Stevenson (30).
Judge Kerr ordered that all five will spend half their sentences in jail and half on supervised licence conditions.
Last month 30-year-old Dutch man Steve Mesquita from Van Den Broekelaan in Amstelveen, was jailed for three years after he pleaded guilty to drugs offences relating to class B cannabis.
A seventh defendant is to be sentenced later this year.
The charges arose after the PSNI and Serious Organised Crime squad, working in tandem with other UK police forces, mounted a surveillance operation in Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool before eventually swooping in February 2010.
Recounting the facts of the case during his sentencing remarks Judge Kerr outlined how on February 6, Young, from Mourne View Park in Lisburn, flew to Liverpool and transferred £500 to McNally who was living in Preston at the time but who has an address at Donard Avenue in Bangor.
Laffin, from the Brackenagh West Road in Newry, was followed to Glasgow where he bought a lorry which was then tracked to Newcastle.
On February 12, McNally went to Liverpool where he met Mesquita and the pair collected a number of boxes.
But while Mesquita stayed behind, McNally drove off but was kept under surveillance and was spotted meeting Stevenson, from The Hawthorns in Annalong, at a service station on the M21 who then drove on to Stranraer and boarded the ferry back to Northern Ireland.
That lorry was raided when he returned to Annalong and when it was searched, cops uncovered 11.9 kilos of herbal cannabis, 5.6 kilos of cocaine, 15.4 kilos of amphetamine, 91,000 Euros and £6,000 in cash.
In total, police estimate the drugs in Northern Ireland to be worth around £700,000 with another £500,000 of drugs uncovered during searches in Preston.
Speaking outside the court, Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall, from Organised Crime Branch, said he welcomed the sentences handed out.
"Working with colleagues in partner law enforcement agencies, we have taken millions of pounds worth of drugs off our streets and put the criminals involved in these shipments behind bars," he said.
"We believe we have caught all the members of this organised crime group, ranging from the supplier in Holland and the principal operators Barry Kavanagh and Liam Young, through to the drivers and couriers.
“We take pride in our success in as much as these operations have made communities safer. But we are not complacent.
"We believe there are other individuals involved in drugs supply and we are determined to use every legitimate resource to frustrate, disrupt and dismantle these groups."
The Special Organised Crime Agency's Matt Burton said: "This organised crime network had no regard for the misery it imposed on its local community.
"They attempted to exploit national and international borders to generate profit. This investigation demonstrates that SOCA, with its national and international partners, will tackle the illegal drugs trade by continuing to identify, disrupt and imprison those who facilitate it."