A COUNTY Durham man has been jailed for his part in a conspiracy to supply cocaine across the North.

Paul Johnson, 43, led a lucrative cocaine racket from his home in Stockport and employed a number of ‘couriers’ to distribute drugs across the North-East.

He oversaw the delivery of cash and large quantities of Class A drugs from Manchester to Durham.

One of the men involved was Ian Coates, 42, formerly of West Rainton, near Durham, who would meet couriers and then buy and sell on large quantities of drugs to people in County Durham and Darlington.

He was arrested and later charged in May last year when Durham Constabulary officers carried out a search warrant at his house in Woodland View.

Christopher Booth, 56, also made a number of trips between Manchester and Durham from November 2017 until his arrest in January last year.

He was stopped by police on the A1(M) near Darlington where they found 1kg of cocaine in a shoebox in the boot of the vehicle he was travelling in.

The pair both admitted their part in the conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, namely cocaine, following a joint police investigation by Durham Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police.

Coates was sentenced to nine years while Booth, of Blackberry Lane, Stockport, received a prison sentence of four years and nine months.

Johnson was jailed for nine years and eight months after admitting conspiracy to supply cocaine and fraudulently obtaining tax credits.

Two other men – Stephen Moore, of no fixed abode and Gareth Ridgeway, of Alamein Drive, Romiley, Stockport, both 32 – admitted their part in the conspiracy and were jailed for four years and two months, and three years and eight months respectively.

The convictions were part of Operation Sentinel – a joint campaign between Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria police forces to tackle serious and organised crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Lawrence, from Durham Constabulary’s Serious Crime Operations Unit, said: “This was a complex investigation and our officers, alongside colleagues in Manchester, have worked hard to secure these convictions.

“As this case shows, we will not tolerate people bringing drugs into County Durham and Darlington and if we have intelligence that people are dealing drugs in our area, we will take action to bring them to justice.”

Anyone with any information on potential drug dealing in their area should contact Durham Constabulary on 101, or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.