The jail sentence handed down to a gym owner for operating a lucrative drugs trafficking scheme is the latest example of the well-worn Merseyside to Jersey smuggling route.
The Channel Island’s wealth, low crime rates and seclusion have made it an attractive destination for Liverpool drug groups to settle, and to set up secret trips to ferry drug consignments from the mainland.
Closer to France than the UK mainland, Jersey is coveted by drugs kingpins across Europe.
Smugglers have to run the gauntlet of airport or ferry terminal security or evade the coastguard and police teams that closely guard its shores.
As a result, the street value of those drugs that do make it through is often double – and sometimes triple – typical prices in UK cities or on the European mainland.
Today Nicholas Whitcombe, who was fined for refusing to close his Body Tech Fitness site in Moreton during lockdown, was described by a judge as a “professional drug dealer”.
Between 2018 and 2019 the pair, both 31, were involved in a conspiracy to traffic cannabis resin into the island and launder the money, with Whitcombe operating from Merseyside and Dryden from Jersey.
Prosecutors said Whitcombe would source the drugs and instruct people to send them from England to a third party at their work address in Jersey.
The packages were then picked up by Dryden, who sold them, collected the cash and sent it back to UK addresses provided by Whitcombe.
Phone analysis revealed text messages between Dryden and Whitcombe that detailed their exploits, and Whitcombe’s suggestions to Dryden on how to launder money.
One text sent by Whitcombe, from Birkenhead, read: “You get to clean your money and you’ll slowly get better at it and eventually it’ll be your legit business.”
But Whitcombe is far from the only Merseyside crook to try the same scheme.
The 45-year-old was stopped soon after she arrived off an EasyJet flight from Liverpool on August 8 last year.
She immediately admitted she was concealing drugs internally, and later removed three Kinder eggs which were wrapped in a condom.
In total, the plastic toy capsules contained 70g of cocaine, with a street value of up to £9,100 if it had been bulked up before selling, and a small amount of cannabis.
It was heard how Robertson was in Jersey previously to attend her brother’s funeral, and while there she met someone who offered her £3,500 to bring the drugs into the island at a later date.
In a similar case, Kinder Eggs were again used to conceal £16,000 of drugs, this time by smuggler Kaylene Anne Carragher.
The 31-year-old had the eggs secreted inside her body on a flight from Liverpool to Jersey.
The Kirkby woman was stopped on March 5, last year, and told authorities she had taken cocaine the night before her flight out of Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Unadulterated, the advocate told the court, the drugs were worth between £6,500 and £8,100.
But, by “cutting it”, it had a potential street value of anywhere between £13,000 and £16,200.
During the hearing, the court heard Carragher had been willing to provide police with valuable information about her UK supplier and contact in Jersey.
Her willingness to have this information mentioned in court also saved Carragher from receiving a longer jail term and she was sentenced to four years behind bars.
In one of the most prominent trafficking plots from Liverpool to Jersey in recent times, Alexander Cullen tried to import £19m of heroin onto the island in the fuel tank of a vehicle.
The Government of Jersey said it was the largest seizure ever made by the island, and it led to the 29-year-old being handed a 14 year sentence.
He only avoided a life sentence due to his guilty plea.
Cullen drove from his home in Liverpool to catch the Liberation ferry from Poole, but was stopped by customs officers in Jersey after they noticed he was acting nervously, with his “hands trembling” according to one officer.
He said he’d come to the island to sell a quad bike, providing officers with a false address.
But the heroin packages were discovered after officers noticed the vehicle’s fuel tank had been tampered with.
Deputy Bailiff Tim Le Cocq described the quantity of drugs as “unprecedented”.
Customs director Andrew Hunt added the drugs would have harmed some of the “most vulnerable” people in Jersey.
In May 2019, three men, from Liverpool, were jailed for smuggling drugs into Jersey as part of a £500k cannabis racket on the wealthy island.
John O’Connor, Alan Smitton and Neil Heskin were said to be veterans of Jersey’s court system, having being busted for an importation plot just a decade earlier.
In the most recent drugs plot, Smitton was said to be the key figure, living as a permanent resident on the island, he managed a £500k cannabis scheme and a £400k heroin network, both busted under the States of Jersey Police’s Operation Raven.
After tracking gangland activity in 2017, they raided two homes and a garage on the island in November of that year, discovering hauls of drugs.
Smitton, 47, was handed 17 years for his major role in the heroin and cannabis plots – both heavily linked to the Merseyside underworld.
O’Connor, 61, and 39-year-old Heskin, were each jailed for seven years and six months for their parts in the cannabis operation.
Both travelled between Liverpool and Jersey as they oversaw the operation on the ground – and ensured the profits flowed back up to Merseyside.
Back in 2005 the three were involved in a scheme – led by O’Connor – that landed 279 bars of cannabis resin on a beach at the island’s Belcroute Bay.
Smitton was jailed for eight years for his role.
O’Connor organised the plot from his then home on Queensway in Wallasey, directing couriers who transported the £400,000 haul from the Netherlands to France.
He also travelled to Jersey, where he had a flat in Havre des Pas, to manage the scheme. O’Connor, then 48, was jailed for nine years.
Perhaps the most notorious Liverpudlian involved in the Jersey drugs trade is infamous Curtis Warren.
Nicknamed the “Cocky Watchman”, he received a 13-year sentence for plotting to import £1m of cannabis – shortly after his release from a Dutch prison – for attempting to tap into the island’s lucrative market.
Warren is still behind bars after refusing to pay a vast confiscation order.
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