Gang jailed for cannabis smuggling plot

The huge drugs haul
The huge drugs haul
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A Whiston man has been jailed for his involvement in a plot to smuggle £250,000 of cannabis into the UK.

Matthew Fitchett, 29, was a member of the three-man gang who conspired to sneak the drugs haul into the country from mainland Europe.

The van containing over 250,000 of cannabis

The van containing over 250,000 of cannabis

Huyton residents Peter McIntyre, aged 33, and 37-year-old John Hill, enlisted the help of 52-year-old driver Ian Maitland from Stockbridge Village to drive the drugs back from Spain in a hire van.

The gang hid 24kg of cannabis bush in heat-sealed foil bags which were then hidden in cavities within the van to avoid detection.

Merseyside Police officers, working with law enforcement colleagues in France and Spain, established that Spanish-speaking Hill was used to source the cannabis whilst McIntyre and Fitchett organised for the drugs to be brought back over by driver Maitland.

They used a false story of a weekend to Amsterdam as cover for their initial trip to Europe in November 2014 then made separate trips in early 2015 using planes, ferries and the Euro Tunnel to avoid arousing suspicion.

But the Mercedes Sprinter Maitland was driving was stopped by the French authorities near the A16 motorway in the region of Coudekerque-Branch and when it was searched 24kg of cannabis was found.

McIntyre and Fitchett pleaded guilty to offences of conspiring to import a Class B controlled drug with intent to evade a prohibition/restriction on the second day of their trial. McIntyre was sentenced to four and a half years as well as three and a half years for possession of a Class A controlled drug from a separate incident. Fitchett was jailed for three years and six months.

Hill pleaded not guilty but was found unanimously guilty by a jury following a five week trial for the same conspiracy offence and was imprisoned for four years.

All three were sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday, October 30.

Maitland was not jailed as he had already spent 10 months in prison in France.

Det Supt Lee Turner from Matrix Serious Organised Crime Unit said: "This case highlights the capabilities we have in teaming up with law enforcement colleagues across Europe to track and catch serious organised crime groups.

"The quantities of drugs being imported were significant and the group stood to make a great deal of money from selling it on the streets of Merseyside via other criminals.

"This is yet another example where cannabis is proven to be a drug with concrete links to serious organised crime, and in fact is not a harmless drug at all. We will continue to work closely with colleagues nationally and internationally to take down gangs like this and put them behind bars so that they cannot bring harm to our communities."

Anyone with information about drugs in their community can call Crimestopper anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Hidden drugs in the back of the van

Hidden drugs in the back of the van