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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Money-laundering drugs gang jailed by Carlisle court

A criminal gang is behind bars after detectives smashed a sophisticated operation to shift drug dealing profits from Carlisle to their associates in Liverpool.

A judge jailed all five members of the group after hearing how they were involved in Cumbria’s illicit trade in cannabis, said to be increasingly the drug of choice for Liverpool dealers.

The longest sentence - six years - was given to 25-year-old Mark McCracken, who led the Carlisle end of the money laundering operation.

He and his pals Philip Crothers, 25 and Keith Gillan, 35, were also involved in an bid to smuggle mobile phones into Haverigg Prison so they could be used by a Carlisle drug dealer known by the nickname Begby, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

McCracken, of Weardale Road, Denton Holme and Crothers, of Dalton Avenue, Raffles, admitted a money laundering offence - attempting to move cash made from cannabis dealing to criminals in Liverpool.

The same offence was admitted by their Liverpool contacts Riaz Jan and Fiesal Hizam.

Crothers and Gillan, of Metcalfe Street, Denton Holme, also admitted their part in trying to smuggle phones, sim cards and drugs, including steroids, into the prison.

McCracken denied being involved but was convicted by majority verdicts of attempting to smuggle the phones and sim cards into the jail. The jury cleared him of trying to get drugs into Haverigg.

Prosecutor David Clarke described how McCracken, Gillan and Crothers were caught in January as they drove towards the prison.

Inside the car police found nine mobile phones, chargers and batteries. They were stuffed into a sock so they could be thrown over the prison fence.

A police expert estimated that in jail the phones would have been worth around £4,000. Both McCracken and Gillan were in touch with the Haverigg inmate “Begby”, at that time serving a jail term for supplying drugs.

Passing sentence, Judge Paul Batty QC told the money laundering defendants: “You were involved in a sophisticated operation which ultimately was involved in shifting drugs money from Carlisle to Liverpool.

“The money was being paid by the Carlisle end of the operation to the Liverpool end and the drugs had obviously come in to Cumbria. Cannabis is now becoming almost the drug of choice for many Liverpool gangs.”

The judge was entirely satisfied the money laundering operation was “significant”.

The cash involved - thousands of pounds - reflected the significant amounts of cannabis involved.

Judge Batty said McCracken was the leading light for the Carlisle side of the money laundering and he poured scorn on his claim that the money came from gambling on illegal fighting.

The court heard earlier how detectives tracked a series of meetings involving the money laundering gang at various M6 service stations last October, November and December. When the four men involved men were caught they were carrying £5,000 in cash.

“We are therefore dealing with serious organised crime between Liverpool and Carlisle and the sentences must therefore reflect that fact,” said Judge Batty.

He added Crothers had been McCracken’s driver and was heavily involved. He was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Of the men in the dock, Gillan had the worst criminal record, said Judge Batty, adding that he had “perjured himself” during McCracken’s trial in a failed bid to shield his friend. He was jailed for 20 months.

Hizam and Jan were jailed for two years and 16 months respectively.

McCracken’s six-year sentence included a extra six months for an offence of affray at a Carlisle pub in February 2013, which he admitted.

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