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rude awakening Drug dealers slept soundly unaware massive operation had been cracked by police

A total of 11 homes across Merseyside were stormed by police early on March 26 as the drug dealers, working across Liverpool and Wirral, slept

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Judge Murray said he was satisfied the most significant player in the operation was James Wright (pictured)

Judge Murray said he was satisfied the most significant player in the operation was James Wright (pictured)

Judge Murray said he was satisfied the most significant player in the operation was James Wright (pictured)

A mob of drug dealers slept soundly unaware their “commercial scale” operation had been cracked by Merseyside Police until cops burst through their doors and arrested them, it has been revealed. 

Nine members of the gang were jailed for a combined total of just under 100 years across court hearings that concluded on Monday.

Three of the men, James Wright, Sean Burrell and Thomas O’Brien, were high-ranking dealers who commanded influence over a a major drugs network that sourced and sold huge quantities of cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

Their operation involved safehouses, cannabis farms and negotiations held during clandestine hotel meetings.

However, the gang was brought down in a series of dawn raids after their secretive EncroChat messages were obtained by detectives.

A total of 11 homes across Merseyside were stormed by police early on March 26 as the drug dealers, working across Liverpool and Wirral, slept.

The police launched their “strike day” after previous operations had led to £237,000 being found in one dealer’s home which had been promoted by EncroChat messages of several key members being analysed by detectives.

In total, the gang was linked to 48kg of cocaine, 22kg of heroin and 30kg of cannabis.

Judge Anil Murray described the network as “a large, professional, sophisticated, well-planned, well-organised and successful” operation.

He added the EncroChat communications network, thought to have been impenetrable but which was hacked in an international operation last year, was used as a “powerful tool by those involved in serious organised criminality”.

Judge Murray said he was satisfied the most significant player in the operation was James Wright (36) of Gateacre Brow in Gateacre.

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He admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin and cannabis and possession of criminal property and was sentenced to 16 years.

He was directly linked to 19kg of cocaine, 19kg of heroin and 18kg of cannabis that flowed through the gang.

Police seized £237,000 from his home in December 2020 but just months later a second search led the recovery of 15kgs of heroin.

Judge Murray therefore said the loss of almost one quarter of a million pounds “did not cause you to falter”.

Alaric Walmsley, defending, said his client was a “working man” who had shown he could be a “useful member of society”.

Mr Walmsley said: “He has a long-term partner and assures me he feels genuine remorse for his actions.”

But Judge Murray said Wright, who used the EncroChat handle StunHun, had led a “double life” in which many of his friends and family wrongly believed him to be an “upstanding member of society”.

Sean Burrell (29) of Park Road, pleaded guilty to conspiracies to supply cocaine, heroin and cannabis and to the production of cannabis and was sentenced to 13 years and six months.

Burrell was said to operate just beneath Wright and was linked to 15kg of cocaine and 1.69kg of heroin.

The dad-of-five used the EncroChat handle MrBigArms to discuss cash exchanges of up to £600,000 and was shown to source and sell multi-kilo amounts of Class A drugs - including to co-defendant Thomas O’Brien.

Judge Murray said he had read a letter sent to him by Burrell and which he described as “articulate” - telling the dealer: “You are clearly an intelligent person. It is a shame you couldn’t put your talent to different use.”

Thomas O'Brien was the only one of the key gang members to take his case to trial, but was convicted of conspiracies to supply cocaine, heroin and cannabis and sentenced to 18 years.

The 43-year-old of Finch Lea Drive in Knotty Ash, used the EncroChat handle ScarWars with messages linking him to 12kgs of cocaine and 3kgs of heroin, the court heard.

Judge Murray said O’Brien operated just below Burrell in the network.

Trevor Parry-Jones, defending, argued O’Brien “was not blessed with the greatest of sophistication” and was living in debt.

The other members the gang were handed down various sentences ranging from 16 months in one case to 10 years in another further roles in the operation.

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