A COCAINE chemist has been jailed for his part in a ‘staggering’ £3.5billion network.
East Lancashire man Barry Hartley was one of the biggest players in a gang whose influence stretched across the UK.
The gang spent almost three years smuggling in 36 tonnes of chemicals to mix with Class A drugs before being sold on the streets.
Police said it was the ‘biggest ever conspiracy of its kind’ on an ‘unprecedented scale’.
The shocking scale of the drugs operation was revealed yesterday as the 63-year-old was jailed for 11 years.
Police said Hartley and the gang were importing and selling benzocaine, lidocaine and procaine, in wholesale quantities. The chemicals are used as ‘cutting agents’ to dilute the purity of drugs like cocaine and bump up their profits.
Between 2005 and 2008 they shipped into the UK 20 per cent of the whole world’s demand for benzocaine.
Hartley, of Cog Lane, Burnley, stored dozens of barrels of chemicals at stables in Rising Bridge and Langho which he also used to train his 10 horses.
Neighbours said he appeared to be a genial man claiming his pension and benefits, with an enthusiasm for horses. But his ponytail, young wife, flash cars and entourage hinted at a more sinister lifestyle.
He was the one with the contacts in the criminal underworld and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency Operation Junko built up a staggering picture of the sheer size of the gang’s distribution by monitoring the chemicals as they were sold on to drug dealers the length and breadth of the country.
The culmination of a four-year investigation by SOCA secretly tracked containers coming into the country from China and India and in July 2008 they smashed the illicit drugs network.
Senior investigating officer John Wright said: “The scale of the operation was remarkable. It is fair to say if someone has snorted cocaine since 2008 they have sorted some of this gang’s product.
“These are convictions for conspiracy to supply class A drugs though the men were dealing in cutting agents. As far as SOCA is concerned, knowingly selling such chemicals to drug dealers makes you as guilty as the dealers themselves.”
‘Career criminal’ Hartley, 63, of Cog Lane, Burnley, had already served a lengthy prison sentence for a 1996 amphetamine supply conspiracy and cocaine supply conviction.
On his release he got involved with Jamie Dale, 31, of Claymere Avenue, Rochdale, and John Cawley, 32, of Foreshaw Close, Fleetwood. They were operating the importation, at first using false identities, mail forwarding services, anonymous cash deposits and unregistered mobile phones.
But by 2007 the global scale of the illegal operation led them to use Dale’s company Bioflo to bring in deliveries and process payments.
Investigators said the gang imported more than half of the total European consumption of the mixing agents, which are commonly used as local anaesthetics in vets or dentists.
In July 2008, Hartley’s home in Burnley was raided. At the same time, dozens of officers swooped on Northcote Stud stables in Langho.
At his Burnley property, investigators found a ‘cottage industry’ where he was producing his own ‘designer drugs’ made out of MDMA and other recreational drugs which he bottled up as ‘Ten Ten Liquid Love’, ‘It’s Magic’, ‘Little Devil’ and ‘Red Devil’. In his kitchen were bags of drugs and mixing bowls with cutting agents including caffeine and paracetamol.
Also recovered were syringes, funnels, seal bags, heroin covered bank notes worth £1,500, and 27 counterfeit wrist watches. There was also a handwritten recipe for the production of amphetamine.
In the tack room, police found a locked wooden box containing almost three kilos of powder which was 80 per cent MDMA.
Following the arrests of Dale, Cawley and Hartley, SOCA put together the evidence for the first trial of its kind, because it was a drugs prosecution involving the distribution of a cutting agent.
By the time of the trial, Hartley had served another jail sentence for the MDMA found during the 2008 raid at his home.
Yesterday he was jailed for 11 years. Dale got 18 and Cawley got 15.
SOCA investigators said that the three men were living the high life, with no declared income yet they owned property, cars and, in Hartley’s case, 10 horses which he believed were ‘high class show jumping’ horses. In fact they were worth very little.
Hartley was claiming benefits, despite his wealth.
Mr Wright said: “The trade in cutting agents is a major enabler of criminal activity, generating huge profits for drug dealers and making class A drugs cheaper and more available at street level.
Without criminals such as Jamie Dale, cocaine would cost users four or five times as much, making it prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of the country, and consequently far less accessible.”
Alun Milford, head of organised crime division at the CPS, said: “This prosecution was based almost entirely on the wholesale supply of cutting agent chemicals which were intended to be cut with class A drugs, thereby increasing the volume and the street value up to a staggering estimated value of £3.5billion.
“Barry Hartley was involved in the delivery and onward supply of the chemicals to their contacts in the drugs world. All three men denied their involvement and have been brought before the courts where they were today convicted for their crimes, following a ten-week trial.
“This complex and lengthy investigation by SOCA also involved a large number of police forces and successful prosecution has broken this criminal chain near the start. Police and CPS will continue to bring those involved in such insidious crimes to justice.”
Friday 25th November 2011
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Burnley 'cocaine chemist' in £3.5billion drugs ring jailed