Four jailed over £1.3m cocaine network

The Northern Echo: Mark Devine Mark Devine

POLICE last night (Monday, December 16) hailed the success of a major drugs operation which has put four members of gang involved in a "well-oiled" network behind bars.

Cocaine worth £1.3m on the streets was recovered in a series of swoops on Teesside when an undercover surveillance investigation reached its end.

The drugs - described as "extremely pure" in court - had been ferried to the North-East from the North-West by Liverpool courier Mark Devine, 47.

But behind the seizures of cocaine in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough was the "wanton spending" on designer clothes, jewellery and expensive hotels.

Detectives discovered members of the gang spent money from their illegal trade living the high-life - while law-abiding people struggled to survive.

Cleveland Police is now going through the process of clawing back their ill-gotten gains through Proceeds of Crime Act (PoCA) legislation.

Detective Inspector Dave Mead said Lee Ryan, 29, and Alan Forcer, 33, from Hartlepool, were "at the top of the network" busted in August this year.

Their movements had been monitored for months before the police swoops on houses in Hartlepool and Devine's car when it stopped in Middlesbrough.

Prosecutor Adrian Dent told Teesside Crown Court yesterday that two one-kilo packages of drugs and £45,000 in cash were recovered on that one day.

Ryan, of Calder Grove, and Forcer, of Southbrooke Avenue, were both locked up for seven years and four months by Recorder Sandra Knapton.

The Northern Echo:

Lee Ryan

Robert Elsdon, 43, of Chesterton Road, Hartlepool, and Devine, of Walmer Road, Liverpool - said to be lower in the chain - were jailed for five years.

Mr Dent told Mrs Recorder Knapton that telephone records showed Forcer and Ryan have "drug contacts in Liverpool where the drug came from".

The Northern Echo:

Alan Forcer

He said: "This was a well-oiled, carefully-organised and carefully-orchestrated operation supplying Class A drugs to the North-East".

The court heard that former soldier Forcer has no previous convictions but was booted out of the Army after serving in Kosovo for taking cocaine.

Brian Kennedy, mitigating, said the dad-of-two set up his own landscaping business but got involved for access to cocaine - "the blight of his life".

Antony Farrell, for former cable puller and motor trader Ryan, said not seeing his daughter while on remand caused "a great deal of anguish."

Ian Mullarkey, for unemployed forklift truck driver Elsdon - a coach at a boxing club for 24 years - said he got into the gang to repay a debt.

The Northern Echo:

Robert Elsdon

Devine's barrister Caroline Haughey told Mrs Recorder Knapton that he got involved in the plot to try to pay off a £2,500 debt which his son owed.

All four men had previously pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs at an earlier hearing.

Debt Insp Mead said afterwards: “The £45,000 cash recovered is testament to the resources and cash that Forcer and Ryan had at their disposal.

"Financial investigations are ongoing and have already uncovered the Forcer was able to spend up to £400 per night staying with his partner at expensive hotels in Newcastle and in excess of £1,000 in cash in under one hour buying designer shoes whilst claiming working tax credits.

“At the time of his arrest police discovered four designer watches with a combined value of £12,375 and numerous high-value items of designer clothing, which are directly linked to profits gained as a result of the supply of controlled drugs.

“Many people are struggling financially to support their families, in particular during the festive period, and will be outraged by the wanton spending habits of those involved in criminality."

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