Two local men have been sentenced for their involvement in a 15 strong drone operating gang which is believed to have smuggled drugs worth more than half a million pounds into prisons across central and northern England.
Over a period of fourteen months from April 2016 to June 2017, the gang made at least 55 drone drops of drugs, mobile phones, SIM cards and memory sticks into prisons in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Worcestershire, Warrington, Lancashire and Liverpool.
Eleven of the drones were recovered when they crashed or were seized by police as they were in position to take-off with their contraband.
The investigation − believed to be the biggest ever of its kind in UK policing − was run by the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit’s Prison Intelligence Unit & Prison Investigation team based in Birmingham.
The sophisticated smuggling operation was headed by 31-year-old Lee Anslow − nephew of notorious Black Country drug dealer John Anslow − who orchestrated around half of all the flights from behind bars in HMP Hewell.
When police searched his cell in September they found drugs with a prison value of around £20,000 plus mobile phones and SIM cards.
Having entered a plea of innocence, Anslow was sentenced to ten years in prison at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday 26th October. Paul Ferguson and Stefan Rattray − inmates considered drugs distributors behind bars − also pleaded not guilty but were convicted by the jury and sentenced to four years nine months and four years respectively.
Brandon Smith, 24 from Tipton, piloted over half of the flights and was sentenced to 7 years.
Fellow pilots also received lengthy sentences: Paul Payne, 33 from Coseley, was sentenced to four years eight months and Justin Millington, 24 of no fixed abode, to four years and four months.
Of the other eight people – seven men and one woman – sentenced, two were local:
Richard Harrabin, 28 from Perton Grove, Weoley Castle, received a suspended sentence of 18 months after admitting conspiracy to supply drugs into prison and conspiracy to supply psychoactive substances.
- Callum McDonough, 25 from Shenley Fields Road, Northfield received a six months suspended sentence for conspiracy to convey prohibited items into prison.
The others convicted were:
- Shane Hadlington aged 29 from Sycamore Lodge, Oldbury, who sent text messages boasting of how he’d trained up the drone pilots was sentenced for four years and three months
- Stella Deakin aged 41 Boundary Hill, Dudley received a six month suspended sentence
- Jake Blewitt aged 21 from Highfield Road, Tipton received a six month suspended sentence
- Dwayne Tinker aged 21 Lindridge Drive, Minworth received a six month suspended sentence
- Ryan Greaves aged 21 from Kimberley Walk, Minworth received a 12 month community order
- Ben Thomas aged 31 from Princethorpe Rd, Birmingham
The fifteenth gang member, driver Robert Morris, 44 from Tipton, is due to appear for a hearing on 9th November.
Detective Inspector Gareth Williams from the Prison Investigation Team, said: “This is a landmark case: it’s the biggest drone drug smuggling racket into prisons ever seen in the UK.
“The convictions come on the back of a very complex, detailed investigation and I’d like to praise the tenacity and determination of all our investigators, plus the analyst who interrogated large amounts of phone data, who played a part in this success.”
On the importance of keeping drugs out of prisons, DI Williams said: “Drug use behind bars fuels violence and self-harm, increasing pressure on prison staff, so it’s vitally important we do all we can to cut off the supply lines – and anyone convicted of supplying banned substances into prisons can soon expect to be inmates themselves.”