THE mastermind behind a plan to flood the North-East with heroin and cannabis was last night starting a sixteen-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

Majid Khan used his car wash business in Middlesbrough as a front for a multi-million pound plot to mass distribute drugs.

Incredibly, one of the men behind the nationwide scheme was already serving a 14 year sentence in jail.

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Teesside Crown Court heard how that didn't prevent convicted drugs baron Imran Bashir helping to orchestrate the team.

Bashir brazenly discussed the evil plan during a prison visit when his wife used her mobile phone to host a conference call with Khan.

Although both men spoke perfectly good English, their conversations recorded by prison bosses were in mostly in Urdu and contained codes.

Although police recovered drugs worth £300,000 the court heard how the trade was worth millions.

Judge Howard Crowson ruled that married Bashir, 36, from Droylsden, Manchester, will start a seven-year sentence at the end of the term he is now serving.

Khan's right-hand man, Mohammed Akram, 25 described by the judge as a "trusted second in command" received ten years and four months.

Six other men involved in the plot from Middlesbrough, Greater Manchester and Bedfordshire were jailed for between three years and seven months and nine years.

Bashir's wife, Aliya Bashir Khan, 32, a Muslim convert born Michelle Berlotti, from Droylsden, received a community order after she admitted converting criminal property.

The court heard that she received £2,100 from the crimes, but her barrister said it was to maintain the family home and not to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Majid Khan, 30, and Akram, both from Middlesbrough, were found guilty after a six-week trial of conspiracy to supply Class A and Class B drugs.

Qaisr Rasaq, 26, from Middlesbrough, and Asad Mahmood, 40, from Oldham, were convicted of being part of the plot to supply heroin, and received nine years.

Middlesbrough street dealer Terence Agiadis, 24, was jailed for four-and-a-half years, and his gopher Tobias Williamson, 21, received three years and seven months.

Majid Hussain, 38, the main player from the Bedfordshire supply line, admitted the heroin conspiracy charge, and was given a nine-year sentence by Judge Crowson.

Mohammed Nadeem, 39, from Bedford, a courier caught with a 1kg package was jailed for four years after he admitted possessing Class A drugs with intent to supply.

Asif Hussain, 29, from Middlesbrough, will be sentenced next week after he admitted conspiracy to supply heroin. He was another of Majid Khan's trusted lieutenants.

Judge Crowson described the gang as well-organised and determined and said: "This trade brings misery to users and, perhaps more importantly, victims of crime."

After the case, Detective Inspector Dave Mead, who led the painstaking cross-country, inquiry said: "I would like to pay tribute to the investigation team who worked tirelessly to dismantle this heroin supply network which spanned across the country.

"A number of young men have been given substantial prison sentences.

"As the cell doors slam shut, I hope that they regret their criminal actions."

The court heard how Majid Khan continued his illegal trade even though police disrupted supplies on two occasions finding a total of 3kg of heroin.

Prosecutor Nicholas Campbell, QC, said safe houses in central Middlesbrough and on a new development in nearby Linthorpe were used by members to store heroin.

A lengthy undercover police job codenamed Operation Kestrel had the properties secretly filmed, while Bashir's coded prison telephone chats were also monitored.

The well-briefed gang members regularly changed their pay-as-you-go mobile phones and used taxis rather than their own cars to move about, said Mr Campbell.

The judge told Majid Khan: "You were the head and driving force of the Teesside conspiracy, and used Imran Bashir's organisation to supply from the Manchester area.

"It would be contrary to the evidence that the amounts seized were the true amount of this conspiracy. Police intervention was seen as an irritation to overcome rather than a reason to stop."

Judge Crowson described the plot as a "determined, commercial enterprise" and "persistent and professional" and told the gang: "This was a substantial trade."

He told Majid Khan: "This was a well-organised and determined plan to sell heroin and cannabis, for your financial gain, to others in this area.

"These courts deal on a daily basis with the consequences of that type of trade, which brings misery to users, and, perhaps, more importantly, to victims of crime, who suffer when users offend to feed their addictions.

"When a business like yours is detected and brought to an end by the hard work of the police, it is necessary substantial sentences are imposed to recognise the seriousness of what you did and what your plan intended to do."