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Gang who smuggled £1.59 billion worth of cocaine into UK using frozen chicken boxes jailed in exposed drug ring
11 November 2023, 10:06
A gang of six have been jailed after they hid £1.59 billion worth of cocaine in boxes of frozen chicken in one of Britain’s largest-ever drug rings.
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Six people have been jailed for their involvement in the drug plot.
The gang smuggled over 15 tons of cocaine from the Netherlands into the UK by hiding the Class A drug in pallets of frozen chicken, police said.
They were sentenced to a total of 58 years at Sheffield Crown Court on Friday.
The gang, which was made up of two women and four men, included Stephen Rayner, 31, Cherie-Anne Rayner, 30, Liam Harrington, 39, Megan Budden, 23, Steven Gibson, 41, and Darren Hunter, 30.
Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit (YHROCU) uncovered the drug ring, which had been operating between September 2021 and December 2022.
Officers from the unit seized 311 kilos of cocaine, worth £31 million, and 35 kilos of crystal meth, worth £7 million, from addresses in Leeds and Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
They later discovered a total of 318 boxes of chicken had been imported to the UK containing roughly 15.9 tons of cocaine, worth an estimated £1.59 billion.
Stephen Rayner, from Leeds, played the leading role in directing and controlling drug and cash couriers, courts heard.
He was assisted by his sister Cherie-Anne Rayner and her partner Liam Harrington, who used their home as a warehouse, and had been instructed to distribute the drugs locally.
Megan Budden, Steven Gibson, and Darren Hunter were also all jailed for their roles in the ring. Two others involved in the gang are set to be sentenced at a later date.
Michael Quinn, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Yorkshire & Humberside, said: “Motivated purely by greed, these offenders were involved in a sophisticated criminal operation to import and distribute an extortionate amount of Class A drugs into the UK - the largest case the CPS has ever prosecuted.
“Working side-by-side with the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit, we were able to meticulously unravel the full extent of their criminal activity and build a strong case to bring these offenders to justice.
“We hope today's sentencing sends a strong message to criminals; there is nowhere to hide from investigation and prosecution.
“Working closely with the police, we are determined to dismantle major organised crime groups like this one from top to bottom, whenever our legal test is met.
“We will be pursuing confiscation proceedings to recover the money they made from their criminal activity.”
Full list of sentences handed:
Stephen Rayner, 31, of Scargill Grange, Leeds, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and methylamphetamine, class A controlled drugs, was jailed for 20 years.
Cherie-Anne Rayner, 30, of Flaxton Street, Leeds, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Cocaine and Methamphetamine, class A controlled drugs was jailed for 15 years.
Steven Gibson, 41, of Belsyde Avenue, Glasgow who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, a class A controlled drug was jailed for 12 years.
Darren Hunter, 30, of Queenslie Street, Glasgow, who pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply Cocaine, a Class A controlled drug was jailed for six years.
Liam Harrington, 39, of Flaxton Street, Leeds, who pleaded guilty to assisting an organised crime group was jailed for three years.
Megan Budden, 23, of The Crescent, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, pleaded guilty to assisting an organised crime group and was jailed for two years.
To be sentenced at a later date:
Brandon Maan, 23, of Churchbank Way, Dewsbury, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, a class A controlled drug will be sentenced at a later date.
Tabrez Hussain, 40, of Cuthbert Road, Birmingham, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, a class A controlled drug was jailed for will be sentenced at a later date.