Drugs gangs who ‘took over’ town jailed in huge bust after eight-month secret police operation

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Carving the name of their gang into tree branches at a popular park, they thought they could own the streets of Warrington and control the supply of the drugs into the small town.

But gang members from Manchester and Merseyside have now been locked up for a combined 141 years as part of Cheshire Police’s largest ever county lines operation. It saw a crackdown on activity by the Long Haired Luke 2, Onion, Jonno and Paul gangs.

On a daily basis – and in full view of the local community – drug deals would take place at parks as children played nearby. Gang members would compete with one another for their place and ownership.

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The gangs carried weapons including machetes and axes as a way to threaten and warn rivals. While others would use stolen cars to supply people in Warrington with crack cocaine and heroin.

Detective Superintendent Simon Draco, Cheshire Constabulary’s lead for serious and organized crime, said: “These gangs had taken effectively over Warrington using local parks frequented by children as locations to deal class A drugs from. Gangs from both cities, along with some operating locally, had established themselves in the town with drugs being openly supplied in the community.

“This led to officers receiving lots of information from the public painting a picture of what was taking place. It was clear that this could bring potential increases in threats, violence and crimes such as aggravated burglaries. We therefore needed to find a solution that would disrupt the gangs controlling the drug market before there was an escalation of violence and criminality.”

READ MORE ABOUT THIS CASE: ‘Long Haired Luke’ gang who promised the ‘fattest and best stuff’ foiled by receding hairlines and ‘repeated trips to buy chickens’

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Through a covered eight-month operation – masterfully using surveillance, CCTV footage, mobile phone billing data, and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) – officers were able to track down those involved. Undercover cops would also be used to buy from the gangs – proving that each item bought on 13 occasions either contained crack cocaine or heroin.

Almost 14 months since the operation began, drug dealers from six gangs were sentenced over three days at Liverpool Crown Court. One of the gangs was sentenced on Wednesday 9 March and Thursday 10 March at the same court. The remaining four gangs will be sentenced in April 2022.

Thirty men and one woman are now behind bars for a total of 141 years and eight months. At least six gangs were estimated to have made a combined total of between £558,000 and £1,116,000 during the operation.

The Paul gang was identified as being the second largest drug gang evidenced by officers. Based in Liverpool, the gang was one of the busiest in Warrington at its peak.

Stephen Brett ran the drug line from Liverpool and gave instructions to his ‘right hand man’ Kyle Thomas from Warrington. Brett would organize couriers to collect the drugs from Liverpool on a daily basis and Thomas would be in charge of the distribution in Warrington. At its peak this drug gang was one of the busiest in Warrington.

However as the investigation progressed detectives identified a single gang had taken over a considerable proportion of the drug market in Warrington. The Long Haired Luke 2 line relied on flare messages – often teasing the ‘fattest and best’ drugs – to secure deals. A court previously heard the group sent out 16,094 flare text messages – issued to multiple numbers at one time – over the course of 178 days between January and June 2021.

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The gang was headed up by 20-year-old Craig Williams, of Liverpool Street in Salford, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin. Williams worked closely with a number of individuals, including Desi Challinor, Keelan Emery and Mason Clemonds, who were all sentenced earlier this month.

Three members of the gang – Antony Cragg, Mark Ingle and Alex Brady – were caught on camera walking around a park in possession of an axe. Officers also observed street dealers Brady and Challinor leaving an address on Longshaw Street in Warrington that was used as a safe house.

Initially operating under the radar by basing themselves at one address, they later expanded their operation to use multiple properties in Warrington. They would either befriend, manipulate or force themselves into the homes lived in by vulnerable people in order to use the ‘cuckooed’ property to store and sell the drugs.

In court, evidence found that Clemonds had used taxis to travel from Manchester to Warrington as part of the gang’s activity. One taxi company he used for eight single trips to travel from the city into the town and back came at a cost of £320. Another company was used 15 times to take him to numerous safe houses in the town.

Det Supt Draco added: “This started from information being reported by the local community and went on to become our largest operation as we disrupted eleven organized crime groups. Those sitting at the top of the conspiracies were exploiting vulnerable people and local users from Warrington.

They used street dealers to carry out their orders while they kept themselves under the radar by basing themselves in other cities. Unbeknown to them they were also under observation by our officers who worked incredibly hard for a long period of time to build evidence and eradicate these gangs who destroy the community purely for an illegal profit.

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“The evidence gathered for the entire case was built so strongly that all the defendants entered a guilty plea. I want to thank the public for coming forward with information that has led us to where we are today and to encourage people to keep reporting this activity so that together we can make the community even safer for residents and hostile for criminals.”

John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire said: “I commend the hard work of detectives in bringing down County Lines teams who were exploiting vulnerable people. The extent of this operation and the sentences it has resulted in show that in Cheshire we are serious about taking criminals off our streets and drugs out of our communities.

“Protecting vulnerable and at-risk people is a key priority in my Police and Crime Plan and Operation Spartans is a prime example of how the Constabulary is achieving this. The message is clear: Keep reporting this sort of activity so the police can build a bigger picture, investigate properly, and make criminals pay.”

If you have information relating to drug activity taking place in your community please report it here https://www.cheshire.police.uk/tell-us or anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and Cheshire Constabulary will do the rest.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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