Gang kingpin and his ‘secret ?1m amphetamine laboratory’
A drugs kingpin who ran a £1million amphetamine lab told a prosecutor “you’re barking up the wrong tree mate” before he was jailed for 16 and a half years today.
Terence Earle was described as being the “kingpin” behind an organised crime group which operated a secret £1million amphetamine lab and trafficked lorry loads of heroin and cocaine between Merseyside and Scotland. Meanwhile, chemicals used in producing the speed were stashed at a holiday park on the outskirts of Blackpool.
The 49-year-old was jailed for 16-and-a-half years today, at Liverpool Crown Court after admitting conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to produce amphetamine. During a trial of issue, Earle – of Freckleton Road in St Helens – disputed that he had supplied 11kg of the class A drug and plotted to supply a further eight kilos, accepting that he had only being involved in the trafficking of 8kg alone.
He claimed that messages on encrypted communications platform EncroChat instead showed him making false promises to a contact in Scotland in order to “string him along” as he owed him £200,000 of amphetamine oil. The associate had apparently been expected to produce the substances from chemicals which the defendant had provided him.
Martin Reid, prosecuting, put to Earle, as he took the stand, that one set of communications showed him discussing the adulteration of 9kg of cocaine into 12kg. But he replied: “You’re barking up the wrong tree, mate.”
The trafficker also compared his messages, which were revealed when the service was infiltrated by law enforcement agencies in 2020, to a book which could be interpreted in different ways by different readers. Earle added: “In this book, I’m the author.”
He meanwhile claimed that he had facilitated the supply of one kilogram of cocaine to a friend after bumping into an acquaintance by chance in the streets of Huyton, saying of this: “You’ve got to remember, I’m in Huyton. You can get cocaine off anyone in Huyton.”
(Image: National Crime Agency)
The court heard today that a National Crime Agency probe codenamed Operation Joyfully was set up to investigate Earle’s racket. He had “enlisted the help of subordinates” such as Stanley Feerick and Stephen King in carrying out his illicit activities.
Mr Reid described how the ring was involved in the importation of drugs “from Europe and beyond” and had a “secret laboratory” in Scotland. But it was halted when Lancashire Police seized 560kg of alpha-phenylacetoacetamide – also known as APAA, a chemical used to make amphetamine – from the OCG in December 2020.
The three pallets, comprising of 28 boxes in total, were found in the rear of a lorry which had been loaded up at a warehouse at Reams Hill Holiday Park – a caravan park in Weeton, near Blackpool – on 68-year-old Feerick’s orders before being stopped by police using a stinger. This quantity would have allowed for the production of around 1,000kg of the drug, worth £1.1million, at the “industrial scale” lab.
(Image: National Crime Agency)
Earle and his associates had previously arranged for seven boxes of APAA to be transported in a Ford Transit van from the same site to a garage in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, in March 2020, at the beginning of the first covid lockdown. Earle also presided over the trafficking of heroin and cocaine to Merseyside from north of the border and in the opposite direction “with the assistance” of Lee Baxter.
Covert surveillance captured a meeting between Feerick and King in November 2020, with the former arrested shortly afterwards while driving a lorry on the M6 southbound. A hold-all inside the HGV contained 2.9kg of heroin, class A drugs worth around £300,000, as well as £20,000 in cash.
A search of his home on Longreach Road in Dovecot unearthed further monies to the value of £9,370. EncroChat messages also discovered that the outfit had also been involved in shipping cocaine between England and Scotland, with all four men then being arrested in March 2021.
“Go-between” Baxter was evidenced to have “provided assistance and logistical operations” for the OCG and acted as a courier, delivering £34,000 in cash to Bolton on behalf of Earle to the user of the EncroChat handle “SlimZebra”. King’s involvement meanwhile was said to have been “limited to class B drugs”.
A fifth conspirator, Stephen Singleton, used his “apparently legitimate chemicals company” in order to “supply the necessary ingredients for large amounts of amphetamine”. He too operated using an Encro phone, giving Earle his custom in “commercial if not industrial quantities”.
(Image: North Yorkshire Police)
On April 14 2020, the 32-year-old supplied 500 litres of isopropyl alcohol – another component in manufacturing amphetamine – in return for payment of £4,000. Singleton was seen meeting a delivery driver at Costco in Haydock and unloading a number of large drums filled with the substance from his vehicle into a Transit van. This was then seen arriving at the Motherwell safehouse that afternoon, with the same 10 plastic containers being unloaded at the site.
Earle was found to have been involved in the supply of at least 11kg of cocaine and discussions to traffic 19kg following a trial of issue, he having claimed that this figure was limited to 8kg. Julian Nutter, defending, told the court: “The beef of his business does appear to be in class B rather than the class A.
“It began from an endeavour to achieve things in the class B. Given the plane has crashed, I am best not attempting to dissect matters any further other than to ask for perhaps what he doesn’t deserve – which is a degree of mercy.”
Singleton, of York Road in Birkdale, is currently serving nine years and two months – imposed in January after he was convicted of conspiracy to produce amphetamine by a jury at Teeside Crown Court. This came in connection with a similar drugs lab located in a shed in a rural area near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which was capable of producing around £5million of amphetamine
Mark Stevens, defending, highlighted his “remorse and determination to address his offending”, adding: “He was a hard-working man. He had stayed out of trouble.
“He had employed a number of individuals. He has high hopes of bettering himself.”
Baxter, previously of Devon Way in Huyton but now of Eldersfield Road in Norris Green, has a “single, unrelated” conviction from 2013 relating to a “confrontation at a golf tournament”. The 48-year-old was made redundant from Jaguar Land Rover’s Halewood plant in 2020 but subsequently secured work as a shift manager for a plastics company.
He then lost this job when the firm learned of his conviction, although he has since found further employment. Mr Nutter, also defending Baxter, told the court: “He is deeply embarrassed by what he has done.
(Image: National Crime Agency)
“It is totally out of character. He admits he was naïve.
“He should have known better. He is somebody who worked hard all his life.”
Baxter previously gave an account that he had agreed to transport the cash after “chatting to people at a football match” and said he had received no reward for his involvement. But Mr Nutter added: “He went into this with his eyes open.
“He was paid, although he cannot remember how much. He has buried his head in the sand over the last three years or so.
“He does apologise to the court for giving a misleading impression. In so far as a man can have a conversion on the road to Damascus, he has had it.”
King, of Garshake Terrace in Dumbarton, has four previous convictions for five offences. Jacob Dyer said on the 49-year-old’s behalf: “His involvement in this was over a relatively short time.
“He has had a limited involvement, on the periphery. This is a case, given his limited role, in which the court could consider suspending his sentence.”
Earle admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to produce amphetamine. He was jailed for 16-and-a-half years.
Singleton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce amphetamine during an earlier hearing. Appearing via video link to HMP Holme House in County Durham, he was handed 41 months behind bars – to be served consecutively to his current term.
Baxter admitted participating in the activities of an organised crime group. He was given a 22-month imprisonment suspended for 18 months, 150 hours of unpaid work and a rehabilitation activity requirement of up to 15 days.
King was found guilty of participating in the activities of an organised crime group following a trial. He was handed 18 months suspended for 18 months plus 100 hours of unpaid work and a 15-day rehabilitation activity requirement.
(Image: National Crime Agency)
Sentencing Earle, the Honorary Recorder of Liverpool Judge Andrew Menary KC said: “You were a senior figure in this conspiracy. You must have had an established network of contacts.
“I am sure you were playing a leading role in this conspiracy. You were organising, buying and selling on a commercial scale.
“You had substantial links to others in the chain, with close connections to the original source. You must have had the expectation of substantial financial gain.”
The defendants could see their ill-gotten gains seized during a further hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act, scheduled for later this year. Feerick, who admitted conspiracy to supply heroin and participating in the activities of an organised crime group, will be sentenced at a later date.
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