MEMBERS of a drug gang, headed by a Mr Big from Bolton, have been jailed for a total of 59 years after they were caught importing more than £15 million worth of cannabis from Spain.

Scott Byrne arranged the movement of more than two and half tons of the drug to bogus firms in the UK in shipments of kitchen parts and vegetables.

Legitimate transportation companies were used, unaware of the illicit substances they were carrying in the cargo in seven deliveries between July 2017 and November 2018.

Sentencing Byrne, aged 32, of Sandalwood, Westhoughton, to 14 years and two months in prison, Judge Michael Leeming told him: “You were at the very heart of the conspiracy, you were involved in every aspect of it.

“You were careful not to get your hands dirty and you recruited others."

Byrne was helped in the conspiracy by Wesley Kinsella, aged 31, of Crompton Way, Bolton and Michael Lawlor, aged 49, of Kenton Close, Bolton as well as Tony Cadman, aged 32, of Alder Avenue, Widnes and Lee Jackson, aged 38, of Bradmore Road, Wirral.

The cannabis was imported to the UK from Spain via the port of Dover.

Some of the drugs were concealed in packages labelled as oven filters and purported to be destined for a kitchen firm.

But the business didn’t exist and the address associated with it actually referred to a yard containing lock-up units behind a convenience store on Newton Road, Lowton where drugs worth £6.6 million were delivered.

Between September 2017 and August 2018 six further deliveries arrived through Dover with drugs concealed in pallets of lettuce and peppers.

The Bolton News: Drugs found in boxes of lettuceDrugs found in boxes of lettuce

These were destined for a cold storage company in Newton Heath where £8.85 million worth of cannabis was received.

Officers stopped the sixth delivery in Dover on 12 August 2018 and uncovered 177kg of cannabis with a street value of more than £1.5 million.

Police raided the Lowton lock-up which was owned by Tony Cadman.

Further investigations linked it to Michael Lawler, Wesley Kinsella and a second lock-up at Hartford Works, Weston Street, Bolton.

In the lockup a stolen Mercedes which contained £20,000 worth of cannabis and led police to Lee Jackson and Scott Byrne.

The Bolton News: Car in lockupCar in lockup

Meanwhile, enquiries found consignments were destined for onward delivery to Bog Farm in Mold, North Wales.

Police raided the farm and found a concealed underground bunker designed to grow cannabis.

They arrested Michael Harley, who was living in a caravan on the farm, as well as Michael Moore, who was living in the farmhouse.

The Bolton News: Michael HarleyMichael Harley

The Bolton News: Michael MooreMichael Moore

Harley admitted that the underground bunker was built at the farm three years previously but claimed that production there ceased shortly afterwards as it was too wet to grow cannabis.

The Bolton News: Bunkers dug into the hillsideBunkers dug into the hillside

Jackson was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison , Cadman to 12 years and Lawlor and Kinsella each to nine years behind bars.

Michael Harley, aged 35, and Michael Moore, 30, of Bog Farm in Mold, Wales were each jailed for 33 months after admitting conspiracy to produce cannabis."

Judge Leeming said of importation conspiracy: “The objective was obviously to flood the streets, pubs and clubs in the North West and other parts of the country with cannabis and the making of large amounts of money was the primary aim and motivation.

“This offending involved a complete disregard for the impact this sort of criminality has in our society.”

Speaking after the sentence Det Sgt Richard Castley of GMP’s Serious Organised Crime Group investigating team, said: “Thanks to the excellent work of our officers and colleagues on partner forces and agencies, we have managed to bring down a vast drugs network.
“These men were responsible for attempting to import enormous amounts of cannabis into the UK; the sale of which would have been used to further criminal enterprise.
“However the exceptional detective work of our investigation team was able to identify and dismantle this organised crime group.

“Consignments packaged among lettuces or kitchen equipment were intercepted and prevented from finding their way onto our streets.

“Drugs blight communities and ruin lives. Their sale is used to further the activities of organised criminal gangs who have no regard for the safety of the public or the rule of law.
“Today the law caught up with these would-be kingpins and they have a long time behind bars to consider their foolishness.”