Staffordshire drugs gang smuggled £125k cannabis from Germany to UK
The ringleader of a Staffordshire-based drugs gang with links across Europe has been locked up after smuggling £125,000 worth of cannabis into the UK.
The group, led by Burntwood drug dealer Christopher Burns, shipped 30kg of the drug in from Germany to the UK four years ago.
The shipment, hidden in crates labelled as wheels, was intercepted by detectives from Staffordshire Police at a depot in Berkshire on February 11 2015.
Burns, who was locked up for 12 years for supplying cocaine in 2017, and Andrew Lillis, from Coventry, were responsible for the 'organisation, acquisition and distribution' of the drugs', which were destined for South Staffordshire.
Burns, aged 41, and Lillis, 49, led a gang of seven people which included two more men from the Burntwood area and two men and a woman from Coventry.
The gang was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court today.
Between July and November 2014, Burns used the alias Steven Dixon and the name of a legitimate company to arrange shipments of freight from Barcelona and the Netherlands to the UK.
Gang member Errol Smith, 44, flew to the Netherlands during December 2014 and January 2015, where he was joined by fellow Coventry-based criminal David Woodings and another man, who hired a van and travelled across.
However the gang's plans were foiled when the shipping company contacted Burns to tell him they had established that the company he was fraudulently using had no requirement for freight shipping. As a result they refused to accept the order.
Burns, who also used the alias Steven Wallace, then arranged the transportation of the drugs from north-west German city Osnabruck to the UK.
In February 2015, Coventry gang member David Woodings flew to Germany and back before travelling again on February 9 – this time hiring a van with accomplice Amy Harris, also of Coventry.
A consignment of the crate, labelled as wheels, arrived in the UK and was intercepted by detectives.
Officers found two cardboard boxes with 30 parcels wrapped in brown parcel tape inside. Each parcel weighed approximately 1kg each.
A fingerprint on a barcode attached to the parcel matched Woodings' right forefinger and as the 41-year-old arrived at Stansted Airport with Harris, search warrants were carried out at 10 addresses across Staffordshire and the West Midlands.
Further drugs were seized at the addresses, including cocaine, MDMA and cannabis.
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Forensic and telephone analysis, as well as surveillance footage, revealed links with the other members of the group.
Detective Inspector Pete Cooke, of Staffordshire Police’s Major and Organised Crime department, said: “This has been a lengthy and protracted investigation spanning Europe, so we’re delighted to have secured convictions.
“Officers have worked diligently and meticulously to tease out a tangled web of criminality stretching from Germany and the Netherlands to the UK.
"We trust this sends out a clear message to criminals: do not attempt to import drugs and prey on the vulnerable in Staffordshire. If you do, wherever you are, we will find you.”
Burns pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cannabis and conspiracy to fraudulently evade the prohibition on the importation of cannabis at an earlier hearing.
Woodings, Lillis, Smith, Harris and Lyndon were found guilty of the importation of cannabis.
Lillis, Smith and Lyndon were found guilty of conspiracy to supply cannabis.
Horton was found guilty of breaching a serious crime prevention order.
Burns is already serving a sentence of 12 years for importation of cocaine with a street value of £202,000 following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court in October 2017.
Lillis is already serving 27 years for his involvement in the importation of 45kg of heroin and conspiracy to supply 200kg of cannabis.
The sentences handed out were:
- Christopher Burns, aged 41, of Hill Street, Burntwood, received two 10-month sentences to be served concurrently.
- Robert Horton, aged 51, of Church Road, Norton Canes, Cannock, was sentenced to eight months suspended for 18 months.
- Richard Lyndon, aged 43, of Cannock Road, Burntwood, was sentenced to three years and six months with a further 28 days to serve concurrently for possession of MDMA.
- Andrew Lillis, aged 49, of High Beech, Allsey Green, Coventry, received two 12-month sentences to be served concurrently.
- Errol Smith, aged 44, of Lymesy Street, Coventry, was sentenced to four years.
- Amy Harris, aged 28, of Blackberry Lane, Coventry, was sentenced to two years suspended for 18 months.
- David Woodings, aged 41, of Blackberry Lane, Coventry, was given a two-year sentence suspended for 18 months.
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