Carlisle cocaine gang man was also part of 'cash for crash'

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One of three Carlisle men jailed for their role in a drugs conspiracy was part of the major cash for crash scam.

Darren Snowden, 44, was already serving a jail sentence for his "lesser role" in the huge fraud investigation, which saw men and women from across the county locked up.

He was one of seven members of a drugs gang who were sentenced yesterday for their roles in the conspiracy to bring class A and B drugs into the county.

The gang trafficked drugs into Cumbria for more than eight months last year, bringing in cocaine, heroin and cannabis from Merseyside and East Lancashire.

Police snared the men after gathering a wealth of intelligence, and seizing illegal drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds from two couriers.

Johnathan O'Neil, 28, was said to have directed the shipments of "commercial" cocaine quantities into the city from elsewhere in the north west.

His step-father, Snowden, was also part of the conspiracy, and a third Carlisle man, 25-year-old Andrew John Berry, of Bower Street, arranged the delivery of cannabis into Cumbria.

The city's crown court heard how the criminal enterprise ran for more than eight months last year before police blew it apart.

Investigators gathered damning evidence, including mobile phone data.

Crucially, on two separate dates last summer, officers also detained two couriers who were transporting large quantities of illicit substances north on the M6.

In June, 54-year-old Sam Stone, of Darwen, Lancashire, was pulled over as he headed for Carlisle. Cocaine, heroin and cannabis - with a potential worth of around £60,000 - was found in his possession.

A month later, John Patefield, 49, of Ellesmere Port, was stopped near Penrith while carrying almost £76,000 worth of high purity cocaine.

The court heard mobile phones were seized from key players and analysed. Liverpool-based Lee Jamieson, 30, was in regular contact with fellow plotters, had sourced the cocaine and controlled the couriers.

Jamieson contacts included Levi Howard, also 30, who, police realised later in their investigation, was a cannabis supply "middle man". Howard, of High Cliff, Barrow, was said to have close ties with O'Neil, Snowden and Berry.

Snowden, the court heard, was jailed last year for his "lesser" role in a major north Cumbria car insurance scam dubbed "cash for crash".

Having admitted a lesser role in the cocaine supply crime, he was yesterday locked up for two years and eight months .

O'Neil and Jamieson were each jailed for seven-and-a-half years having admitted cocaine conspiracy crimes.

Berry and Howard each received two-year terms for conspiring to supply cannabis.

Patefield got four years and eight months, while Stone had 18 months added to a three-year sentence he was given last year for transporting the illegal drugs.

Judge Tony Lancaster said the two drug seizures provided a "snapshot" of the overall enterprise.

"I am sure that over the period of the conspiracy the underlying intention was to make significant sums of money," the judge concluded.

"All of the conspirators lent help and support to each of the others."

Mitigation was given during a two-day sentencing hearing by the defendant's respective lawyers.

Speaking after the case, Inspector Patrick McDonnell said: "Operation Matterhorn was a proactive investigation into an organised crime gang that operated across Cumbria and the north west of England.

"The gang were a close and disciplined group who undertook numerous steps to attempt to avoid detection and prosecution by the police.

"As a result of considerable hard work of the Serious and Organised Crime Unit the steps taken by the gang were unsuccessful and incriminating evidence was secured."

*Kathleen Berry, 25, of Brampton Old Road, Carlisle, admitted a lesser crime of being concerned in the supply of cannabis, and was given a community order.

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