UK & World News
'Determined' Gang Jailed Over £5m Drugs Plot
A gang behind a plot to make a vital ingredient for the production of millions of pounds of amphetamine have been jailed for more than 23 years.
A skilled chemist and a technician were flown in from China to join a British organised crime gang which police say had advance orders for benzyl methyl ketone (BMK), which could have made at least £5m of amphetamine, a class B drug.
The sale of BMK is controlled in the UK to prevent drug production and would therefore have found a ready market from other criminal gangs.
Ring leader Jonathan Buckley, 56, who had been living in Thailand but is originally from Liverpool, was jailed for seven years at Warrington Crown Court after he and all the other defendants pleaded guilty earlier this year.
Richard Pheby, 53, from Middlewich, was jailed for five years and four months, while Paul Preston, 42, from Newton le Willows, was given five years.
Jicheng Zhang and Yongan Hu were each jailed for three years and told they will be deported when they have served their sentences.
The gang had set up a laboratory on an industrial unit in Winwick, near Warrington, under the guise of running a cleaning company.
But they were stopped by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) before production began.
Officers recovered a mobile phone which contained a video of Pheby in the makeshift laboratory with Preston telling him: "Give us a smile, you can see this in the dock can't you?"
Matt Burton, SOCA's regional head of investigations, said the gang was planning to produce BMK on an industrial scale and talked of setting up a bigger lab to cope with the demand.
"We had been watching their every move though and intervened before any drugs reached the streets," he said.
The court heard Buckley flew to China for a demonstration of the process from the chemist and the technician, then helped them get visas to come to the UK.
When the gang was arrested officers found 100kg of sodium 2-oxo-3 phenylglycidate intended for use in the production of BMK along with liquid BMK that had been successfully made.
The court was told the gang's way of making BMK has not been seen in the UK or Europe before and was "pioneering work".
Judge David Hale told the gang they had set up a "wholly determined criminal enterprise," and said SOCA deserved to be congratulated for bringing them to justice.