EIGHT members of a cocaine and heroin empire have been jailed following the highest value drug seizure ever made by Greater Manchester Police.

Seven of the men were jailed at Preston Crown Court in March for over 103 years in total after being convicted of drug conspiracy charges.

The eighth man member of the gang, Frank Eaton, 47, of Bag Lane, Ashbourne, was sentenced today at Burnley Crown Court to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin.

According to police, the group were involved in a sophisticated international distribution network which would see vast amounts of the class A drugs make its way from Belgium to the UK, via the Netherlands.

The drugs were concealed in agricultural equipment and within the trailers carrying them in Tongeren before being driven to Rotterdam in the back of HGVs and setting sail to Hull Port.

From there it would travel to a location in Derbyshire operated by two of the gang, who had both previously served prison time in Belgium for drugs importation charges.

The North West group was headed up by Julian Solomon, of Grove Lane, Hale , who was responsible for the arrangement, collection and onward delivery of that region's cocaine and heroin supply.

His associates would then assist Solomon in his efforts to distribute the drugs to local crime bosses.

Unbeknown to the gang, GMP's Serious Organised Crime Group was conducting a covert operation into their activities and on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, a Scania HGV was stopped at the King George Docks in Hull by UK Border Force officials.

A subsequent search of the vehicle saw officers seize approximately 58kg of cocaine and almost 84kg of heroin - a combined street value of approximately ?66,502,000.

Suspecting that their international associates had ripped them off and kept the drugs for themselves, three of the gang, including Solomon, flew to Belgium the following day for an emergency meeting.

Upon his return to the UK, Solomon was arrested and remanded into custody at HMP Forest Bank where he was visited in May of last year by two members of the gang.

One of gang was arrested in the St Helens area and found to have thousands of pounds in cash and a kilogram of cocaine in his car. A search of his home address resulted in a firearm and ammunition being recovered, along with large quantities of cash.

Another gang member was arrested in Belgium and extradited into GMP custody

Detective Inspector Tony Norman, of GMPs Serious Organised Crime Group said: “These men operated one of the largest international drug importation networks that GMP has ever investigated with the seizure of over £66 million worth of drugs at Hull port - a key moment in our operation.

“Their offending didn’t just have a local impact on Greater Manchester; it reached across the UK and will no doubt have had a ripple effect in mainland Europe where their money was lining the pockets of crime bosses.

“We know how much misery local dealers can inflict on people’s lives however men like these are the ones who are responsible for supplying those local dealers, enabling them to blight our communities and flood our streets with drugs.

“Our work to tackle local criminality is very important and alongside that we will continue to target those who operate at the very top so that we can shatter these organised crime networks and strangle the supply at a local level.

“This truly was an international team effort and I would like to thank the UK Borders Agency, the National Crime Agency and the Belgian authorities for the key support they have given us in achieving this outcome.

“I want the result today to send a clear message. It doesn’t matter how high up you are in a criminal outfit, if you are involved in the drugs supply trade in Greater Manchester, our incredibly dedicated team will ensure that you face prosecution are brought to justice.”

The other six members of the band were:

Jason Starmer, 43, of HMP Liverpool, pleaded guilty part way through his trial to conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm prior to being sentenced.

David Reece, 55, of Ludlam Ave, Nottinghamshire was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Everton Bailey, 57, of Mandarin Way, Derbyshire was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Graham Rawling 58, of Sussex Road, Southport pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and was found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin following a trial. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Gerrard Young, 48, of Heathwood Road, Manchester was convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

James Newhall, 42, of Delph Common Road, Ormskirk, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin and was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.