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Drugs gang who set up a chemical lab modelled themselves on Sopranos and Breaking Bad characters

A drug gang considered themselves anti-heroes from American crime series, even naming themselves after Sopranos and Breaking Bad characters when they flooded the UK with £6million worth of illegal and dangerous drugs, destroying lives.

Gang leaders Anthony Saunderson, the Kingpin, Paul Mount and Darren Owens and six others were sentenced this morning to more than 187 years in prison for producing hundreds of kilograms of drugs.

In messages sent through the communications network Encrochat network that sparked the major police investigation, the gang organized their deals of cocaine, heroin, cannabis, ketamine and MCAT (Mephedron) and mainly amphetamine.

Saunderson, 42, of Formby, who was also convicted of a gun crime, used Encrochat handles named after notorious TV criminals, something the judge said showed “real insight” into how he saw himself.

This included Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman, also an amphetamine dealer on the hit series Like The Gang Leader, and Sopranos actor James Gandolfini, who plays the infamous mafioso Tony Soprano.

The court heard that other gang members were deeply committed to fine-tuning the chemical processes needed to produce injectable amphetamines and that they sometimes worked more than ten hours a day to produce the drugs.

Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, makes drugs in the hit series Breaking Bad

Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, makes drugs in the hit series Breaking Bad

An investigation by the Merseyside Police later found that they had attempted to secure a storage facility in an industrial estate in Aintree known as The Boxworks to store the large quantities of chemicals needed to make the drugs.

An investigation by the Merseyside Police later found that they had attempted to secure a storage facility in an industrial estate in Aintree known as The Boxworks to store the large quantities of chemicals needed to make the drugs.

Evidence of drugs found by police when they robbed the drug gang

Evidence of drugs found by police when they robbed the drug gang

Saunderson, 42, used an Encrochat handle named after Sopranos actor James Gandolfini, who plays infamous mafioso Tony Soprano, something the judge said showed

Saunderson, 42, used an Encrochat handle named after Sopranos actor James Gandolfini, who plays infamous mafioso Tony Soprano, something the judge said showed “real insight” into how he saw himself

The nine men were sentenced to more than 187 years in prison for manufacturing and supplying controlled drugs across Britain

The nine men were sentenced to more than 187 years in prison for manufacturing and supplying controlled drugs across Britain

A Liverpool Crown Court judge said this morning that the gang's leaders were marked by their unwavering commitment to producing vast quantities of illegal drugs and marketing them across Britain.

A Liverpool Crown Court judge said this morning that the gang’s leaders were marked by their unwavering commitment to producing vast quantities of illegal drugs and marketing them across Britain.

Nine men sentenced to over 187 years in prison for manufacturing and supplying controlled drugs across Britain

  • Anthony Saunderson, 42, of Formby, was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and supply Class A and Class B amphetamines, conspiracy to supply other Class A drugs, conspiracy to supply other Class A drugs B to deliver and conspiracy to acquire a prohibited weapon
  • Paul Mount, 38, of Halsall, was sentenced to 34 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and supply Class A and Class B amphetamines, conspiracy to supply other Class A drugs, conspiracy to supply other Class B drugs supply and conspiracy to acquire a prohibited weapon
  • Darren Owens, 48, of Huyton, was sentenced to 24 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and supply Class A and Class B amphetamines and conspiracy to supply other Class B drugs
  • Kieran Hartley, 32, of Knotty Ash, was sentenced to 23 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and supply Class A and Class B amphetamines and conspiracy to supply other Class B drugs
  • Steffon Beeby, 42, of Halifax, West Yorkshire, was sentenced to 15 years and six months in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and supply Class A and Class B amphetamines
  • Lee Eccles, 33, of Maghull, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and supply Class B amphetamines
  • Stephen Shearwood, 38, of Maghull, was sentenced to 14 years and four months in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to produce Class B amphetamine, supply Class A and Class B amphetamines, and use other Class A and Class B drugs. to deliver
  • David Kelly, 44, of Ormskirk, was sentenced to 15 years and three months in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A and Class B amphetamines and conspiracy to supply other Class A and Class B drugs
  • Michael Pope, 35, of Maghull, was sentenced to 17 years and six months in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to supply Class B amphetamine and conspiracy to supply other Class A and Class B drugs
  • A tenth man, Connor Smith, 29, of Maghull, will be sentenced at a later date.

Prosecutor Nicola Daley said the reports show 71 liters of amphetamine oil and between 780 kg and 1000 kg of amphetamine sulphate paste sent to Glasgow, Neath, Manchester and Newcastle along with other drugs.

She said: ‘It was a full service business, operating not only in England and Wales, but also supplying large quantities of drugs to Scotland, including to customers in Dundee and Glasgow.’

The men, who were sentenced by the Crown Court in Liverpool on August 12, shipped large quantities of their injectable amphetamines across England, Scotland and Wales as part of a multi-million pound plan.

They were also involved in dealing cocaine, heroin, ketamine and other drugs, while two gang leaders attempted to obtain weapons in the months before they were taken to court.

A Liverpool Crown Court judge said this morning that the gang’s leaders were marked by their unwavering commitment to producing vast quantities of illegal drugs and marketing them across Britain.

Ms Daley told the court earlier this week that the gang’s massive drug production operation was initially discovered after the Encrochat messaging service was breached by investigators in 2020.

The National Crime Agency then uncovered a slew of reports pointing to a drug lab on the outskirts of Chester that was found to have been used to produce amphetamines.

An investigation by the Merseyside Police later found that they had tried to secure a storage facility in an industrial estate in Aintree known as The Boxworks to store the large quantities of chemicals needed to make the drugs.

Merseyside Police and North Wales Police later discovered that a cottage on Deeside Lane was being used by a gang to produce drugs on a large scale.

Ms Daley said: ‘The investigation in North Wales, codenamed Operation Bluesword, focused on a drug lab at 1 Wood Cottage, Deeside Lane, which was used to produce multi-million pound amphetamine on a commercial scale and on occasion to produce other Class B drugs.

“On or about 1 May, some of the defendants, who were no doubt paranoid about being discovered by police, identified the presence of North Wales surveillance vehicles/officers who had recently begun patrolling Wood Cottage. That factory was then abruptly closed.’

She said that after the site in North Wales closed, the gang continued to try to produce amphetamines.

Following the sentencing of the other nine defendants, Paul McVeigh, Detective Inspector of Merseyside Police, said: ‘Thanks to the investigative work of both troops, nine people have now been sentenced to more than 187 years behind bars.

“Each of the convicts took part in the company for at least significant financial gain and while they all played different roles and were involved to varying degrees, they were all aware of the magnitude of the operation.

“We know the devastation drug trafficking is wreaking havoc on our communities. Those involved in the supply of drugs and the use of weapons have no respect for the lives they affect and the harm they can cause, and we are committed to prosecuting those involved in serious and organized crime and to to bring to justice.

“Today’s verdicts show how high our commitment is and how seriously this type of activity is viewed by the courts. I am delighted that these sentences will remove dangerous people from the streets of Merseyside for a significant period of time and hope that our communities will be reassured that we will continue to take positive action and support us in our efforts.”

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