Drugs gang trafficked £4m worth of cocaine into Devon

From top left to bottom right: Jason Tarone, Kevin Leaman, Stacy Howells, Darren Hardman, Anthony Carr, Adam Hammerton, have been jailed for their role in the conspiracy. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

Members of a drugs gang which trafficked cocaine worth more than £4 million into Devon have been jailed for a total of almost 50 years.

The group carried out 20 courier runs from London to Devon over nine months in 2020 before being caught by detectives.

The eight men and one woman have been jailed for 46 years and nine months.

Devon and Cornwall Police became aware that the group was using an EncroChat platform to coordinate their trafficking.

Cash seized by police in Exeter. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

Over a number of months, officers monitored the online conversations and visits to the region before arresting the offenders in October 2020.

The nine gang members were sentenced at Exeter Crown Court over three days for conspiracy to supply cocaine and other linked offences.

The lead conspirators of the organised crime group were Stacy Howells, 45, of Avon Road, Torquay, and 46-year-old Anthony Carr from Lodge Lane, North Finchley in London.

Cocaine seized from Kevin Leaman's vehicle. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

The illegal operation they led brought between 50kg and 60kg of cocaine into Torquay and Exeter. Their time was spent organising the drug runs, arranging the collections, and managing the cash proceeds.

They were sentenced to 13 years and 10 months, and 10 years and four months respectively after pleading guilty.

Assisting them were Kevin Leaman, 44, of Glasshouse Lane, Exeter, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty; and Adam Hammerton, 45, of Frobisher Road, St Albans, who was sentenced to eight years, after being found guilty at trial.

A floor safe with large amounts of cash in found at Stacy Howells address. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

Officers intercepted some of the group’s activity and seized £37,500 in one vehicle stop where a secret compartment was found hidden under fencing within the courier van.

Officers later tracked messages from Carr which said: “Driver supposed to be back at @3:10 phone off…stressing me out".

He followed this with another message which said: "He’s been nicked mate Exeter Police Station give me abit [sic] mate he’s got a bit of work plotted also just having a sort out."

The group then continued their trafficking using trusted couriers who transported the drugs to Devon.

They were Kieran Martin, 33, of Gilbert Court, Plymouth who was sentenced to two years and two months and Jason Tarone, 52, of Canonbury Road, Islington, who was sentenced to two years and seven months after both pleading guilty.

Lee Winter, 60, Durham Rise, London, was given a suspended sentence of two years after he was found guilty by a jury.

On 1 October 2020 police intercepted a drug exchange in a car park in Marsh Barton, Exeter where they seized multiple kilos of cocaine and £47,000 in cash.

After arresting the group, officers carried out further searches including at the home of Darren Hardman, 52, and his wife, Waraporn Hardman, 47, in Corfe Crescent, Torquay.

They were found to be acting as warehousers and a large amount of cocaine was found in their address. Darren Hardman was jailed for four years and 10 months.

Waraporn Hardman was given a suspended sentence of 10 months and two weeks for allowing her property to be used in the supply of drugs. They both admitted their roles in the conspiracy.

Cocaine seized from a warehouse in Torquay. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

In Howells’ Torquay home, officers found two safes containing cash hidden in the floor.

The drugs were analysed by experts who concluded that based on the purity of the product and if it was sold in one gram street deals, it could achieve a return in the region of £80,080 per kilo.

Based on the quantities of drugs seized and the number of courier runs carried out by the group, it’s believed they moved between 50 and 60kg.

In total, officers seized more than three kilos of cocaine with a street value of nearly £500,000, over seven kilos of cannabis with an estimated street value of over £70,000, two cannabis cultivation sites with an estimated turnover of over £15,000 per yield and over £600,000 in cash.

The van, which was used to traffic drugs, stopped near Honiton in April 2020. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

Twenty people have been convicted as part of this operation and sentenced to over 70 years in prison.

Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Sam Smoothy, said: “This case involved exemplary work by the investigation and prosecution team who through meticulous attention to detail and effective co-ordination with partner agencies dismantled a serious criminal network, delivering a hugely complex but successful prosecution.

“By exploiting evidence from a variety of sources the investigation team cracked the OCG. In particular, evidence from encrypted chat groups identified individuals involved and proved the scale of supply.”

“Of concern was the length of time this OCG went under the radar. Police identified that the group used multiple handsets, SIM cards, courier vehicles and hides, to conceal evidence."