A gang engaged in the importation of over 15 tons of cocaine, valued at approximately £1.59 billion, into the country has been sentenced today. Six individuals associated with the scheme, wherein Class A drugs were concealed in pallets of frozen chicken imported from the Netherlands, received a cumulative prison term of 58 years at Sheffield Crown Court.
The illicit activities transpired between September 2021 and December 2022 and were brought to light through an investigation conducted by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit (YHROCU). YHROCU officers confiscated 311 kilograms of cocaine, estimated at £31 million, and 35 kilograms (£7 million) of methylamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth, from locations in Leeds and Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
Subsequent inquiries revealed that the cocaine had been smuggled into the country between March 23, 2022, and December 15, 2022, concealed within frozen chicken pallets imported to the UK. A total of 318 chicken pallets were imported, containing an estimated 15.9 tons of cocaine valued at £1.59 billion.
The court heard that Stephen Rayner from Leeds played a central role in directing and overseeing several drug and cash couriers. His sister Cherie-Anne Rayner and her partner Liam Harrington, also from Leeds, utilized their residence on Flaxton Street in the Beeston area of Leeds as a storage facility where they weighed and repackaged the drugs. In September of the previous year, officers seized 132 kilograms of cocaine valued at £13 million and 35 kilograms of methylamphetamine valued at £7 million from a locked bedroom in their home.
Cherie-Anne Rayner and Harrington, under Stephen Rayner’s instructions, distributed substantial quantities of Class A controlled drugs to individuals in the vicinity of their residence. They maintained a detailed record of the drugs supplied, with fingerprints of Stephen Rayner, Cherie-Anne Rayner, and Harrington discovered on the list.
Brandon Maan from Dewsbury served as a courier for the gang, directed by Stephen Rayner to transport large quantities of Class A drugs and cash across the UK. Megan Budden, Maan’s partner from Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, allowed her home at The Crescent, Dewsbury, to be used as a drug warehouse. On November 10, 2022, officers seized 58 kilograms of cocaine valued at £5.8 million from Budden’s residence.
Drugs courier Steven Gibson from Glasgow was entrusted with collecting substantial drug quantities from Redditch in the West Midlands, where they were imported from abroad. On December 15 of the previous year, Gibson’s vehicle was observed leaving a Redditch warehouse with holdalls containing 75 kilograms of cocaine valued at £7.5 million. Gibson was subsequently apprehended by the police, while Darren Hunter, also from Glasgow, was stopped on the M6 with 40 kilograms of cocaine valued at £4 million in his vehicle.
Police officers then discovered Tabrez Hussain in the Redditch warehouse, responsible for removing cocaine from the boxes, placing them into large holdalls, and loading them into Gibson’s vehicle. A legitimate Dutch haulage company unwittingly delivered the drugs from overseas, hidden within the consignments. Between March 23, 2022, and December 15, 2022, the company made 34 deliveries of frozen chicken to the Redditch unit, totalling 318 pallets, each estimated to contain 50 kilograms of cocaine, resulting in an estimated total weight of 15.9 tons and a street value of £1.59 billion.
The following individuals appeared before Sheffield Crown Court for sentencing:
Stephen Rayner, 31, of Scargill Grange, Leeds, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and methylamphetamine and was sentenced to 20 years.
Cherie-Anne Rayner, 30, of Flaxton Street, Leeds, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and methamphetamine and received a 15-year sentence.
Brandon Maan, 23, of Churchbank Way, Dewsbury, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and will be sentenced at a later date.
Steven Gibson, 41, of Belsyde Avenue, Glasgow, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and received a 12-year sentence.
Darren Hunter, 30, of Queenslie Street, Glasgow, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine and received a six-year sentence.
Tabrez Hussain, 40, of Cuthbert Road, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and will be sentenced at a later date.
Liam Harrington, 39, of Flaxton Street, Leeds, pleaded guilty to assisting an organised crime group and received a three-year sentence.
Megan Budden, 23, of The Crescent, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, pleaded guilty to assisting an organised crime group and received a two-year sentence.
Speaking after the sentencing, Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Al Burns, who led the investigation for YHROCU, said:
“The excellent work by the investigation team led to the seizure of a huge amount of illegal drugs, taking them away from the streets of Yorkshire and Humberside and other areas across the country where they were destined to be delivered.
“In terms of value and quantity, it is without doubt the biggest drugs investigation we have conducted and is believed to be the largest prosecution of its kind in the country.”
“We estimated that this organised crime group imported over 15 tons of cocaine into the country and I have no doubt that, had we not intervened and broken up their enterprise, they would have imported much more.”
“Evidence showed that this group were involved in supplying drugs over a prolonged period of time, causing damage to people’s lives and would have caused so much harm to our communities.
“I’m pleased that the sentences reflect this and will hope they will serve as a deterrent to others who are involved in trafficking drugs across the Yorkshire and Humber region and beyond.
“Breaking up these organised crime gangs and bringing the individuals involved with them to justice is a priority for the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit.”