Lutterworth drugs courier jailed for role in £100m plot

Stephen Crane, of Lutterworth, has been jailed for 17 years for his role in a drug smuggling operation worth �100m.
Stephen Crane, of Lutterworth, has been jailed for 17 years for his role in a drug smuggling operation worth �100m.

A Lutterworth man has been jailed for 17 years for his role as part a drugs gang which tried to smuggle cocaine and heroin with a street value of £100m into Britain

Stephen Crane, of Drage Close, Lutterworth, was sentenced at Warrington Crown Court on February 7 following a trial in December.

The 55-year-old was convicted of conspiring to supply cocaine and heroin.

He denied he was part of the plot so Judge Nicholas Woodward gave Crane no credit off his 17-year sentence, unlike some of the other members of the gang who had pleaded guilty earlier on.

Crane was arrested by police at Charnock Richard Service Station in Lancashire on the M6 motorway at 10.05am on April 24 last year as part of Operation Redbank.

Operation Redbank was the codename for the Titan unit’s investigation into the conspiracy, with Titan the north-west’s regional organised crime squad.

The prosecution said Crane was part of the gang’s transportation team organised and that he was involved in “fishing trips” that took place during the conspiracy.

The gang used the trips cover for importing drugs from France, with angling equipment stored in their vans which was later used to pack the drugs into.

Crane was intending to go on a further trip later in April but it was cancelled after 78kg of cocaine and 2kgs of heroin were seized by Merseyside Police from a van in Chelmsford, Essex, on April 6.

After Crane was arrested at the service station, he was found with £900 in cash.

Operation Redbank was started in spring 2012 and centred around the activities of Richard Brookhouse, who was an inmate at HMP Kirkham in Lancashire serving a 22-year sentence for drug importation after being found guilty in 2003.

Police received intelligence that Woodward was meeting with drug dealers in the north-west while out on day release from the prison.

After monitoring his activities and recording cladestine meetings in remote locations, the police were able to start building their case against the gang.

It started to unfold after two of the gang’s drugs couriers - a father and son from Manchester – were arrested in Essex after returning from one of their “fishing trips” to France.

By the end of its investigation, police were able to link the gang to seven previous importations of drugs from France. It estimated that 500 kilograms of cocaine had been smuggled into Britain with a street value of £100million.

A total of 23 people were convicted in relation to the organised crime probe, jailed for a total of 217 years.

The conspirators, who came from Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire and West Yorkshire, used the drugs to supply other prominent drug dealers in towns and cities throughout the region.

Det Supt Jason Hudson said: “This investigation by Titan is the latest in a series of high-profile arrests of prominent organised crime groups across the north-west and demonstrates Titan’s ongoing commitment in tackling serious organised crime across the region.”

A Titan spokesman added: “The admissions made in interview provide an indication of the substantial payments made to those who are willing to act as couriers for large quantities of Class A controlled drugs.”

Crane, who was the ninth man arrested as part of the case, had previous criminal convictions but no previous involvement with drugs.