An international crime network responsible for importing more than 50 tonnes of cannabis and cocaine into the UK has been smashed. The last remaining kingpin, Philip Baron, pleaded guilty to conspiracies to import drugs and money laundering today.
When police raided the villa of Walter Callinan, a close associate of Philip Baron, they found a 200-page ledger detailing transactions for a total of 17 tonnes of powerful 'skunk' cannabis sent to Britain over a 17 month period.
The shipments accounted for 6% of all cannabis sent into the UK at the time.
Callinan was jailed for 11 years 2011. Shortly after his arrest, Callinan phoned his son in a recorded phone call saying the game was essentially up. SOCA investigators listened as he told his son Ben:
There is documentation, spreadsheets of monies collected off motorways... 100 grand, 60 grand, 80 grand. We're f*** mate, they've got that much documentation.
Paul Yearsley, a secondhand car dealer and close associated of Philip Baron, the head of one of the UK's most prolific drug gangs, used his drug money to fund a luxurious lifestyle in the UK and Spain.
Yearsley, who was earlier sentenced to 5 years 4 months his role in the gang, was even featured in a 2009 edition of Lancashire Life and his home displayed under the title "Living the Dream."
The Serious Organised Crime Agency have said their investigation into the criminal activities of Philip Baron, dubbed Operation Beath, has "completely dismantled several high-level organised crime groups".
Details of how Philip Baron's drug smuggling gang succeeded in importing more than 50 tonnes of cannabis and cocaine into the UK have emerged.
Vast quantities of cocaine, originating in South America, and travelling through Spain, were brought into the UK disguised as technical manuals, through regular services.
The drugs were professionally wrapped and boxed and labelled with the logos of well-known international companies in Spain, and the contents detailed as procures of legitimate companies.
The gang disguised themselves as ordinary businessmen and women and used serviced or "virtual" offices: often using the details of legitimate companies and individuals who had had their identities stolen to rent these offices.
A crime network responsible for importing more than 50 tonnes of cannabis and cocaine into the UK over the past 15 years has been dismantled by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The five-year investigation involved:
16 UK police forces
Six foreign law enforcement agencies
The Prison Service
The Crown Prosecution Service Organised Crime Division
During the course of the investigation there were drug and cash seizures throughout the UK, as well as in Spain and South America.
There's no doubt Baron and his associates were operating at the top end of organised crime. He lived a lavish lifestyle abroad, portraying himself as a legitimate businessman, while orchestrating the importation of huge amounts of drugs into the UK.
There is clear evidence that his criminal activity was having a direct impact on communities in many of our towns and cities. He recruited people whom he could trust to perform specific roles and moved drugs and cash around in a business-like fashion. Baron thought he was untouchable but we were able to work with partners, both here and overseas, to completely dismantle the crime groups he was linked to.
– Head of Investigations in the North West for SOCA, Steve Baldwin
A network of international organised crime groups responsible for flooding the UK streets with more than 50 tonnes of cannabis and cocaine has been smashed by detectives.
Sentences totalling 189 years have been handed out following a five-year investigation led by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Today at Liverpool Crown Court the last remaining kingpin, Philip Baron, aged 57, pleaded guilty to conspiracies to import drugs and money laundering.
Baron, who is originally from Salford but had been living in Ireland for the last 15 years, will be sentenced later this month. He had fought extradition for more than two years before losing an appeal at the Supreme Court in Dublin last November.
Among those already sentenced were two of Baron's close criminal associates who headed their own crime groups. Walter Callinan, aged 60, from Stoke, and Paul Hewett, aged 55, from Hampshire, arranged the importation of drugs while based in Spain.
Callinan was jailed for 11 years and Hewett received 20 years.