Fentanyl dealers who used 'Chemistry for Dummies' book jailed for more than 17 years

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

Two university friends who used a "sophisticated drugs supermarket" on the dark web to sell hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of drugs - including one up to 100 times stronger than heroin - have been jailed.

Ross Brennan, 28, conspired with Aarron Gledhill, 30, to import and sell powerful class A drugs to thousands of customers and spent the proceeds on watches, gold, drugs and prostitutes.

Brennan used a dark web site called AlphaBay, which has since been shut down, to sell drugs, including fentanyl, to customers, receiving bitcoins worth between £275,000 and £1.5 million, depending on fluctuations in the currency's value.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescription painkiller generally administered by doctors in the form of a patch or lollipop. It can be up to 100 times stronger than heroin and leaves many people addicted.

Brennan, who was described as a "sophisticated and arrogant" dealer, continued selling drugs after being made aware that some of his customers had died. There was no evidence that his drugs were to blame.

Matthew Bean, prosecuting, told the court the defendant was fully aware of the risk of selling the drugs and continued regardless, telling another dark web user: "I've been told I've got blood on me, I know there are bodies out there on me, if you do thousands and thousands you can't help but f*** up occasionally."

Brennan was jailed for 13 years and eight months and Gledhill received a sentence of three years and nine months at York Crown Court.

Police said they believe it is the first case of its kind in the UK.

Detective Inspector Nichola Holden, of North Yorkshire Police, said: "Brennan and Gledhill made life-changing sums of money through a sophisticated drugs supermarket on the dark web.

"But every single one of the thousands of transactions could have put lives at risk."

Officers found drugs with a street value of tens of thousands of pounds and mixing equipment when they searched Brennan's address in Huntington, York, as part of a large-scale investigation.

They also seized a "Chemistry for Dummies" book, address labels, bags of cutting powder, a mixing machine, a microscope, a set of scales and a number of packages from around the world.

Cash was found during the searches, although many of the transactions used bitcoin. Credit: North Yorkshire Police

Brennan set up an “online supermarket” on the dark web to advertise the wares and used encryption software to hide transactions. He sourced the drugs by post from Vietnam, the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Poland and Mexico and sent them on to customers who could leave reviews of the service they received.

The court heard Gledhill was "exploited" by his friend into receiving the packages.

Detective Superintendent Steve Thomas said: "The importation and distribution of such a variety of drugs, including fentanyl and crystal meth, was on a scale North Yorkshire Police hadn't seen before.

"The case we heard today is more than drug dealing, though. It shows an emerging pattern of criminals moving online and using digital technology and currency to offend."

Brennan, who suffered from mental health issues and drug addiction, and Gledhill pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import and supply drugs and money laundering. Brennan also admitted child pornography charges.