ONE of the country's biggest ever police drug investigations – which started in the North-East – has finally come to an end.

The 19th of 22 people who were jailed as part of Operation Roderigo had their assets stripped under Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) legislation yesterday.

High-value watches, cash, houses, cars, a static caravan and even a part interest in a carp fishing lake in France are among convicted criminals’ assets identified by investigators.

Officers from the North-East Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART) found a £2,200 Breitling stainless steel chronograph timepiece, a Jaeger LeCoultre Grand Reverso worth £4,000 and £2,650 Omega Seamaster as well as a BMW 7 series and numerous properties in the North-East and on Merseyside.

The undercover operation started in 2012 when Cleveland Police began to look at the activities of suspects Adrian Morfitt and David Garside from Hartlepool.

It was quickly discovered that they had links to an organised crime group in the north-west and drugs and cash were being transferred across the Pennines on an "unprecedented" scale – as much as £30m worth.

During the two years of the investigation, detectives learned that they were dealing with some of the most sophisticated criminals in the country.

The gang used complex anti-surveillance manoeuvres and encrypting devices which could be remotely wiped to destroy evidence – paid for in cash in Canada and untraceable, while some travelled the world to launder money.

In one case, a secret compartment in a car boot containing 25kg of amphetamines and more than £44,000 cash was sniffed out by police dogs.

The head of the empire in the north-west, Liverpool drugs lord Ian Stanton, was one of Britain's Most Wanted Men after going on the run. He was caught in Spain and received 16 years.

In June 2015, the 22 people were jailed for a total of almost 200 years – with sentences ranging between two and Stanton's 16 years.

Teesside Crown Court heard that cash and high-purity cocaine and amphetamine was seized by police travelling between Teesside and Merseyside.

Judge Peter Armstrong described the the haul as a “snapshot” of dealing on a “significant and commercial scale”, and praised police for "quite extraordinary work” cracking the cross-country cartel.

Detective Sergeant Thomas Maughan, of the regional asset recovery team, said outside of court: “Operation Roderigo was a great success in terms of how the operation was run between Cleveland Police, Merseyside Police and the National Crime Agency and we saw some great results at court.

“Once the defendants had been jailed, the N-E RART alongside the Crown Prosecution Service worked tirelessly to see exactly how these criminals had benefited from their illicit activity.

"It’s now apparent that they have gained assets worth over £1m from crime.

“Anyone who has gained financially or materially from crime should know that conviction at court and a jail sentence does not end the process.

"We will do all we can to recover assets whether this be physical property, goods or cash. Crime does not and should not pay.”

Speaking after the case in 2015, National Crime Agency branch commander David Norris said: "What we uncovered here was a number of inter-connected organised criminal groups working together to source drugs, sell them, and then launder the profits.

"They were extremely well-organised, transporting large quantities of drugs across the country with large sums of cash going in return. Some members of this network had spent virtually their whole lives trying to stay under the radar of law enforcement.

"It took an incredibly complex and professional investigation spanning several years to bring them to justice. We worked together not just with colleagues in Cleveland and Merseyside Police, but also internationally, in Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium."


SHAUN Stanton was the 19th and last of the 22 people jailed as a result of Operation Roderigo to have his assets stripped.

The £453,218 confiscation order was the largest made against any of the defendants and brings the total to more than £1m.

Some of the gang – despite making thousands of pounds, usually as couriers or money-launderers – were found to have no assets and were ordered to pay a nominal £1.

The king-pin at the North-East end of the trans-Pennines trade Adrian Morfitt, 30, from Hartlepool, was adjudged to have benefited by £712,718, and had available assets of £30,137. He was jailed for 12 years.

His right-hand man David Garside, 30, Hartlepool, had a confiscation order made in the sum of £32,220 despite having made £957,281 from his crimes. He got 11 years and eight months.

Stanton's father, Ian, 44, got the biggest sentence of 16 years. He was also ruled to have made the most from the cartel - more than £2.1m. His assets of £299,348 were taken.

More than £165,000 of Stanton's criminal gains was ruled to have come from car deals he could not provide receipts for, while his assets were largely made up of seven properties in Liverpool worth around £300,000 which are said to have been "gifted" to him by his grandmother, and £150,000 in bank accounts.

His second-in-command in the north-west, Keith Watson, 38, also from Liverpool, benefited by £422,568, and a confiscation order of £16,080 was made. He was jailed for 15 years and four months.

His girlfriend Melanie Lawrenson, 35, got a three-year sentence. Her benefit was adjudged to be £4,122, and had assets of £8,650.

Among the other notable cases are Paul Mullen, 51, Wrexham, North Wales, and his wife Lisa Archer, 39, who transferred some of the money to France for the carp lake.

Mullen, jailed for eight years, was said to have made £713,500, and have assets of £119,694. Archer had £55,280 confiscated despite benefiting by as much as £636,365. She got two years and eight months.

The others are:

Neal Gutteridge, 30, Hartlepool, benefit of £223,452 and assets of £23,500 - seven years

Darren Crossley, 31, Hartlepool, £120,294 and £294 - seven years

John Knowles, 26, Liverpool, £265,630 and £115 - seven years six months

Michael Moore, 37, Liverpool, £46,695 and £12,000 - six years eight months

Christopher Evans, 51, Chorley, Lancashire, £397,540 and £10,240 - nine years four months

Edward Hill, 40, Liverpool, £15,750 and £15,750 - two years three months

John Parry, 47, Liverpool, £3,898,424 and £1 - three years six months

Paul Rudd, 34, Hartlepool, £1,500 and £1 - four years

Paul Wilson, 47, Liverpool, £361,035 and £6,910 - six years

Richard Ryan, 36, Hartlepool, £240,000 and £1 - six years

Mark Williamson, 37, Hartlepool, £320,789 and £69,140 - three years four months

* All ages are taken from the time of sentencing in June 2015