St Helens man jailed for part in £6m cocaine smuggling operation

Mark Holmes, who has today been jailed
Mark Holmes, who has today been jailed

A man from St Helens has been jailed for his part in a plot to import £6million worth of cocaine into the UK.

Mark Holmes, 46, of Derbyshire Hill Rd was today sentenced to 17 years in prison for conspiracy to import Class A drugs.

The drugs found in the HGV

The drugs found in the HGV

His accomplice, John Blake, 48, of Avon Road, Ashton-in-Makerfield, was given 13 years and seven months.

Around 8pm on Wednesday September 12, 2018, officers came across the duo parked at the side of a road in Derbyshire in a HGV which had broken down. Officers spoke with Holmes and Blake and suspected they were carrying drugs. The pair were arrested and taken into custody.

The HGV was seized and an initial search of the cab revealed a sophisticated encrypted mobile phone containing a foreign SIM card.

Holmes and Blake were interviewed and denied any wrongdoing. They were released while officers arranged a search of the vehicle.

John Blake

John Blake

That revealed cocaine with an estimated street value of £6million, hidden in a custom made compartment within the trailer chassis. The hide was opened using an adapted allen key which was located in the cab of the HGV.

Officers from GMP’s Serious and Organised Crime Group launched an investigation into the pair, and their conspiracy soon began to unravel.

On Tuesday September 4, 2018, Holmes travelled from Portsmouth to Bilbao, Spain via the ferry in a white HGV. Phone data revealed that over the following days the pair were in regular contact while Holmes was out of the country.

On Thursday September 6, 2018 Blake took a flight from Liverpool to Malaga. Using telephone data, officers could see that Holmes and Blake met up in Spain and travelled through France back to the UK.

After his release Holmes wasn’t aware police had found the drugs and was falsely confident they wouldn’t. Over the next week he repeatedly pestered the officers for his truck to be returned, and on one day he called the investigation team over 20 times. Officers decided to see how confident Holmes was by returning the HGV to him, and covertly following him.

On September 24 Holmes attended GMP’s vehicle compound where officers returned the HGV to him, even though it still hadn’t been repaired and was undrivable. Holmes used a HGV recovery service and took the HGV to Knowsley in Merseyside. A short time later, a Ford C-Max driven by another man arrived and his passenger was Blake. Officers continued to watch as Blake and Holmes parked the HGV up and began searching.

Holmes, along with assistance from Blake, was seen entering the pallet compartment of the HGV, removing the metal plates and allowing access to the hide within the chassis area.

Holmes then discovered the drugs were missing from the hide, just as officers swiftly moved in and arrested the men, despite Holmes trying to make a last-ditch attempt to escape.

Detective Inspector Lee Griffin, of GMP’s Serious and Organised Crime Group, said: “It’s thanks to the hard work of all the officers in this case, along with numerous partner agencies, that these criminals have been stopped from deluging our streets with such a huge amount of drugs.

“Drugs destroy relationships, blight communities and wreck the lives not only of drug users but also of those people caught up in the illicit supply chains.

“Those who benefit from supplying illegal drugs to vulnerable people deserve no place in our society, and our community is a safer place with them behind bars.

“I hope this sentencing sends a clear message that we will pursue those persons who supply harmful drugs and we will go to great lengths to bring them to justice.”