Cannabis: Jail for gang behind £600K drug haul
MEMBERS of a ‘professional and organised’ drugs gang with links to major underworld groups in Liverpool have been jailed for their roles in a cannabis operation worth over £600,000.
Detectives swooped on the gang following a two-month covert operation codenamed Operation Raven in late 2017, which involved up to six undercover officers.
One of the gang – career criminal Neil Heskin from Liverpool – went on the run for over a year after first being arrested. He eventually handed himself in to officers on Merseyside after telephoning States police Detective Sergeant Jim McGranahan, the head of the force’s Priority Crime Unit, on his personal mobile.
Yesterday, before the Royal Court’s Superior Number, five members of the criminal group were jailed for a total of 28 years and five months. A sixth member, Alan Smitton, who was also involved in another conspiracy to flood Jersey’s streets with over £400,000 of heroin was jailed for 17 years.
Speaking as he announced the jail sentences agreed by the court, the Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, presiding, said O’Connor, Heskin and Smitton were the main players.
Outlining the case, Crown Advocate Simon Thomas, prosecuting, said that it was a case involving the ‘professional and organised supply of drugs in Jersey’ by a gang, some of whom were professional drug dealers.
He added: ‘It was a professional operation. It was organised from Liverpool and involved dealers from Liverpool visiting the Island in order to organise the control and supply of drugs locally, as well as collect the proceeds of sale, which would be sent back to Liverpool.’
John O’Connor (61) and Neil Heskin (39) – the gang’s links with Liverpool drug kingpins – were both jailed for seven-and-a-half years after admitting one count of conspiring to import cannabis into Jersey.
The Jersey henchmen, Norman Templeton-Brown – whose First Tower storage unit was used to hide some of the drugs – and David Arrowsmith (57), who also had bars of cannabis resin stashed in his home on St Aubin’s Road, were jailed for five years and nine months and four-and-a-half years respectively.
Islander Paul Howes (59), the gang’s drug dealer, was jailed for a total of three years and two months.
The court heard that prior to the cannabis being sold on, it was stored across the Island. A total of £500,000 worth of the class-B drug was found in Templeton-Brown’s lock-up and a further £100,000 at Arrowsmith’s home.
It was heard that Templeton-Brown’s storage unit was being used while he was on holiday in India.
Evidence included recordings from a device hidden at the Admiral Pub in St Helier, which heard O’Connor telling Howes that he had ‘access to a commercial amount of cannabis’ and that he needed to distribute the drug and send up to £80,000 to an off-Island supplier.
Advocate Michael Haines, defending O’Connor, said his client had nothing to do with the importation of cannabis into Jersey. He told the court: ‘He was a foot soldier who took orders and made no managerial decisions. The people making those orders do not expose themselves to risk.’
Advocate Rebecca Morley-Kirk, defending Smitton, said her client could not be compared to infamous Merseyside drug lord Curtis Warren who was jailed for 13 years after being snared in Jersey in 2009. She told the court: ‘It is difficult to imagine anyone higher up the chain than Curtis Warren and his starting point was 13 years. That case dealt with six times as much cannabis.’
Representing Arrowsmith, Advocate Adam Harrison said his client was merely a ‘custodian’ of the drugs and became involved in the conspiracy at a later stage. He also told the court: ‘Between 1988 and 2015, when he sustained a life-changing injury, he had a good work record... he was assaulted by an attacker who blinded him with a kick. Since then he has struggled to find work and that is why he accepted the payment for his involvement in the drug conspiracy.’
Advocate Paul Nicholls, representing Howes, said his client ‘received a call out of the blue’ from O’Connor about buying cannabis and he was just a dealer who had no part in any wider conspiracy.
He added: ‘His criminal record is largely historical with offences dating back to 1982. For many years he is not a man who has troubled this court. In essence, for a period of 30 years he stayed out of trouble.’
Templeton-Brown’s lawyer, Advocate James Bell, said the suggested prison term of seven-and-half years for his client was ‘grossly excessive’.
Advocate Bell added: ‘He is not a prime mover. He is at the lower end of the hierarchy. He did not invest money and was not directly involved in the onward supply. His involvement was limited.’
Advocate Chris Hillier, defending Heskin, said his client was not an ‘organiser or main director but was merely responsible for the money’. He added that there were considerable personal mitigating factors in his case.
A confiscation hearing was set for 31 July.
Jurats Jerry Ramsden, Rozanne Thomas, Pamela Pitman, Robert Christensen and Joanne Averty were sitting.