ONE of the most complex police narcotics operations in Scarborough’s history is at an end after the last members of a “ruthless and calculating” drugs gang were put behind bars.
Vanya Thrower and Paul Stubbs, of Alma Square, learned yesterday that they will serve a combined total of nine years in jail for their part in a criminal operation that saw an unprecedented quantity of heroin and crack cocaine flood into the town.
Their former associates, Stephen Lee, Paul Rennie, Adrian Hudson, Paul Newlove and the crime syndicate’s kingpin, Thomas Hunt, have already been sentenced to a combined 22 years in jail for their roles in the conspiracy.
The sentences are the result of a painstaking two-and-a-half year police probe that exposed a Manchester-based crew, which used local Scarborough-based ‘lieutenants’ as conduits for the distribution of their deadly cargo.
It is believed that at its height, the group was making between £3,000 and £5,000 a day from the trade of illicit substances in Scarborough.
An incredible 4,000 phone calls a month were being made by addicts to a single mobile phone number, which was used by the thugs to facilitate daylight drug deals in popular locations, which included:
l Gilly’s Steps off
l Castle Dykes
l Valley Road pond
l Shelters in Spa gardens
l Valley Gardens
l The old gas works in Seamer Road
l Holbeck Hill
Police believe that gang members used sickening violence, including stabbings and baseball bat attacks, to enforce debts as they muscled in on the lucrative Scarborough drugs scene.
Detective Sergeant Stephen Paxton, of Scarborough CID, was one of the key players in the police investigation, which led to 66 arrests between March 2010 and November last year and involved 40 officers.
Speaking to the Evening News, he said: “The figures are startling. This has been the biggest operation of its kind in Scarborough. Members of our team have lived and breathed this for more than two years.
“This was a ruthless, nasty and calculating group and Hunt in particular was intelligent. He wasn’t a drug user as far as we know - he was just driven by a desire to make money. They would develop their tactics and were quite adaptable.
“It’s certainly been the most challenging investigation I’ve been involved in. It’s very satisfying to see them behind bars.”
In the autumn of 2009, isolated pieces of intelligence linking Manchester criminals with the supply of drugs in Scarborough began to filter through to detectives.
A few arrests allowed them to develop an understanding of who they were dealing with, before the scale of the investigation snowballed.
“Gradually, the information started to get more specific,” DS Paxton said. “Although no official reports were made, our intelligence suggested that a level of violence was being used that was quite extraordinary for the drugs scene in Scarborough.”
It soon emerged that the group, led by Hunt, were transporting huge quantities of heroin and crack from the Moston area of Manchester to Scarborough.
The drugs were initially distributed from a room which was rented at the Golden Last public house in Eastborough.
Addicts would call the pay-as-you-go mobile phone number, which intelligence gatherers coined the ‘550 number’ after its last three digits, and they would be directed to a location in Scarborough where there would be a dealer waiting to sell them £10 or £20 wraps.
Typically, the street dealers, who kept ‘office hours’ of between 9am and 9pm, would be drug users from Scarborough who worked for the Manchester-based bosses to feed their own habits or to pay off drug debts they had run up.
One such peddler was 30-year-old Craig Moss, who was jailed for two years in January 2011 after he was caught with 27 wraps of heroin and 40 wraps of crack cocaine.
Police began to disrupt the distribution network through regular searches and pushed the dealers out of the town centre vicinity, to locations such as Seamer Road gas works and Holbeck Hill. In the summer of 2010, they decided the time had come to swoop on the group’s ringleader.
“My brief was to secure a prosecution against the main organiser, which turned out to be Hunt, and effectively end the supply of these dealers,” DS Paxton said. “Strike day was June 17. We decided we would arrest him for his part in the conspiracy. We had handsets seized from the street dealers which were linked to the 550 phone which we could put in Hunt’s hand.
“When we got him, nothing was on him - he always kept a distance from his merchandise - but we also executed a warrant at the Golden Last where drugs were found. We connected him to the room through fingerprints.” After Hunt was released on bail and with the police net closing in, the crime gang changed tactics. Although still co-ordinating the operation, Hunt, who was finally charged in July last year, returned to Manchester and a new Scarborough safe-house was found.
Police believe that around £7,000 worth of Class A narcotics were being delivered from Manchester on an almost daily basis to a new distribution centre in Alma Square, where trusted Scarborough foot soldiers Thrower and Stubbs took on the roles of the Manchester bosses and passed the substances to local dealers.
Analysis of phone numbers linked to the dealers revealed that drug couriers were continuing to regularly travel from Manchester to Scarborough.
Darren Butterworth was one of the men who would transport the drugs. He was jailed for four years after he was caught with £7,000 worth of Class A substances outside the Alma Square address in December 2010. Butterworth was replaced with the likes of Peter Cox, of Manchester, who was jailed for more than three years last summer after Class A drugs were found in his car on a cross-country run.
Rather than transporting the drug money back to the west coast by road or train, as the criminals had done previously, tens of thousands of pounds began to be wired from bank branches in Scarborough to Manchester accounts – and the money was withdrawn almost instantly at the other end.
Evidence from bank CCTV cameras in Scarborough was key to the case which resulted in yesterday’s convictions at Bradford Crown Court. Police also believe the street dealers may have been using lookouts, as they became increasingly aware that police were closing in.
As the scheme began to unravel, Hunt was remanded in custody in October last year after he was found by police in the Byways pub in Crossgates – a breach of his bail conditions which had forbidden him from entering North Yorkshire. He was handed a six year prison sentence last month.
In total, police have obtained 28 convictions as a direct result of their probe into the enterprise.