International drug import network sentenced over £66m seizure
Eight people involved in an international cocaine and heroin empire have been jailed following the biggest value drug seizure ever made by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
All but one of the gang members were sentenced at Preston Crown Court last month, with the last one being handed a prison term on Friday (April 20).
The group’s offending came to a halt after a co-ordinated network of international law enforcement officers discovered large quantities of class A drugs worth £66.5 million at the King George Docks in Hull.
Detective Inspector Tony Norman, of GMP’s serious organised crime group, said the men – who were jailed for 103 years in total – operated “one of the largest international drug importation networks” ever investigated by the force.
The drugs were concealed in farming equipment and were driven from Tongeren, eastern Belgium, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, before it was shipped to Hull Port.
It was then transported to Derbyshire by gang members David Reece and Frank Eaton – who have both previously served prison time in Belgium for drugs and importation charges – and they would organise its onward distribution to regional crime bosses.
The group based in the North West was led by Julian Solomon, who was responsible for the arrangement, collection and delivery of the region’s cocaine and heroin supply.
His associates Graham Rawling, Gerrard Young and James Newhall helped him to distribute the drugs to local dealers.
Jason Starmer, based in Burton-on-Trent, provided a link between Eaton and Solomon, often making trips to distribute drugs in Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
And Everton Bailey was responsible for the circulation of class A drugs in the East Midlands once they had been prepared for regional dispatch.
On May 17 last year, GMP conducted a covert operation into the group’s activities and stopped a Scania HGV van at the King George Docks.
A subsequent search of the vehicle uncovered approximately 58 kilograms of cocaine and almost 84 kilograms of heroin with a combined street value of around £66,502,000.
Telephone records showed that when the drugs did not appear at their intended location, Solomon, Starmer and Bailey agreed to meet Eaton in Belgium for an emergency meeting, fearing their associates had kept the drugs for themselves.
On his return to the UK, Solomon was arrested and remanded in custody at HMP Forest Bank where he was visited by Starmer and Rawling.
The following day, Starmer was observed by officers having a “panicked meeting” with Rawling and Newhall at a pub car park, where they exchanged phones and papers.
He was then arrested and found to be in possession of thousands of pounds in cash as well as a kilogram of cocaine. A search of his home address resulted in a firearm and ammunition being seized.
Eaton, who did not return to the UK following the meeting, was arrested in Belgium by local authorities and extradited into GMP custody while his seven co-conspirators were on trial.
Det Insp Norman said: “Their offending didn’t just have a local impact on Greater Manchester; it reached across the UK and will no doubt have had a ripple effect in mainland Europe where their money was lining the pockets of crime bosses.
“We know how much misery local dealers can inflict on people’s lives however men like Eaton, Reece, Solomon and Starmer are the ones who are responsible for supplying those local dealers, enabling them to blight our communities and flood our streets with drugs.
“Our work to tackle local criminality is very important and alongside that we will continue to target those who operate at the very top so that we can shatter these organised crime networks and strangle the supply at a local level.
“This truly was an international team effort and I would like to thank the UK Borders Agency, the National Crime Agency and the Belgian authorities for the key support they have given us in achieving this outcome
“I want the result today to send a clear message. It doesn’t matter how high up you are in a criminal outfit, if you are involved in the drugs supply trade in Greater Manchester, our incredibly dedicated team will ensure that you face prosecution are brought to justice.”
Those sentenced are:
Frank Eaton, 47 – to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin;
Julian Solomon, 37 – to 25 years after he was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin;
Jason Starmer, 42 – to 21 years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin and possession of a firearm;
David Reece, 55 –to 16 years after he was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin;
Everton Bailey, 57 – to 16 years after he was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin;
Graham Rawling, 58 – to ten years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and being found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin;
Gerrard Young, 48 – to nine years after he was convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin; and
James Newhall, 42 – to six years and nine months after pleading guilty to supply cocaine and heroin.