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9 September 2010, 06:00
A gang of drug dealers who supplied crack and heroin on two housing estates in Luton were jailed for a total of 45 years
The crime gang, which called itself Workout, was run by Stevenage-resident Mark Birch whose flourishing business was expanding into other parts of South Bedfordshire, including Leighton Buzzard.
In a huge operation, code-named Paddle, over 400 officers were involved in months of surveillance and intelligence-gathering to bust the gang. Undercover officers also posed as customers to buy drugs.
Police, many of them armed, raided 23 properties in Luton, Stevenage, Milton Keynes and Leighton Buzzard on 10 September last year. A firearm, drugs and cash were found. Chemicals, used in the production of drugs were also recovered, Luton crown court heard.
Prosecutor David Matthew said: "This case involves the large scale supply of heroin and crack in the Luton area."
He said the gang sold drugs on Lewsey Farm and Hockwell Ring in Luton and were seen by police officers dealing in open areas and near schools in what he described as a "flourishing business operation which used a 'deal line'.
The total amount of crack seized amounted to 1,334 grams with a street value of between £66,000 and £106,000. Heroin weighing 289 grams worth between £12,000 and £14,500 was recovered, along with 110 grams of ordinary cocaine worth £25,000.
The extent of the dealing was revealed in telephone records. They established a deal line in each of their locations. Between January 12 last year and 10 September a number associated with the Lewsey Farm address received 120 calls day. In Hockwell Ring the dealer's line was receiving between 800 and 1,000 calls a month.
Mr Matthew said Mark Birch was in charge of the operation. He never dealt drugs directly, but rented a property in Wilsden Avenue in Luton which he described as a "crack factory."
Heroin and crack was received in bulk and divided up into street deals. Cutting tools and chemicals were recovered by officers, along with £20,000 cash.
|Alisha Murphy||Cliveroy Birch||Fabreece Mullins||Gary Burke||Mark Birch|
|Michael Birch||Mohan Rahman||Niall McErlane||Ori Cyrille|
Money handed over by test purchase officers to the gang's drug runners was traced back by police to those at the top of the organisation. 200 mobile phones were also recovered.
Mark Birch lived with his girlfriend Alicia Murphy in Stevenage and also had a property in Welwyn Garden City. When the Stevenage address was raided debt and drug lists were found and £9,000. Ms Murphy had five different bank accounts, which Mr Matthew said, showed £20,000 of drug money passing through.
Mark Birch's cousin Cliveroy Birch was arrested as he flushed some of his drugs down the lavatory of his home in Park Street, Luton. From there police still managed to recover 35g of crack and 57g of heroin. Scales and wraps were also seized.
In Robinson Street, Bletchley, an address used by Fabreece Mullins scales, 30 grams of crack and 22 grams of heroin was also recovered. The Hockwell Ring operation in Luton was run by Mark Birch's brother Michael. Street deals were carried out on behalf of the gang by Ori Cyrille and Mohan Rahman.
Mark Birch aged 24, of Chatsworth Court, Stevenage; his cousin Cliveroy Birch, aged 20, of Park Street, Luton; Fabreece Mullins aged 18, of Huckleberry Close, Walnut Tree, Milton Keynes, Ori Cyrille aged 19, of Wedgewood Road, Luton and Mohan Rahman, 23, of Strangers Way, Luton pleaded guilty to two counts of Conspiracy to Supply Class A Drugs.
Mark Birch's girlfriend Alicia Murphy, aged 22, of Chatsworth Court, Stevenage, pleaded guilty to money laundering.
Michael Birch, aged 20, of Rush Court, Leighton Buzzard, was convicted by a jury of two charges of conspiracy to supply drugs.
One of the gang, Niall McErlane, aged 20, from Moorland Gardens, Luton, was found guilty of murdering Houghton Regis man Richard Long in a row about drugs. He had been charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs as part of this operation but as he is now serving 26 years for murder, the court ordered this charge to lie on file, rather than proceed with it.
For Mark Birch, barrister Catherine Stock said he bought the drugs in bulk and distributed them to others to sell. "At the time he gave little thought to the consequences of what he did. Since being in custody he has seen at first hand the damage caused by drugs and is ashamed of his part in it."
The public gallery was packed as Judge Richard Foster sentenced the gang. He said: "Those who supply Class A drugs at this level will receive little mercy from the courts. Drugs ruin lives that were once full of promise and hope. The need to feed the habit leads to crime and in the case of young females often to prostitution."
He jailed Mark Birch for 12 years telling him he was the "Chairman and Chief Executive of a Criminal Enterprise." Cliveroy Birch was jailed for 6 years, Fabreece Mullins for 7 years, Mohan Rahman received 6 years, Michael Birch 9 years and Ori Cyrille 5 years.
Alicia Murphy, who had served the equivalent of a 2 years sentence on remand was released but ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work.
The judge commended the police for their investigation saying the work of the undercover officers could not be underestimated.
A confiscation hearing is due to be heard at a later date.
After the case Det Insp Ged McCarthy, who led Operation Paddle, said: "It takes many months to put together an operation of this nature so sometimes it can appear as if the police are not aware of what is going on or not able to do anything about it.
"However these results today show that we can help, especially when members of the community have been so supportive of our work. We are always keen to hear from people who have information on where threats to a peaceful community life are coming from and we will act on them. Other crime groups are being investigated by us at the moment and these people are certainly not untouchable - they are just criminals who prey on the weak and deal in misery."
Police say one defendant Gary Burke, 22, of Osborne Road, Luton, has not attended for trial. He pleaded not guilty to two counts of Conspiracy to Supply Class A Drugs. He is now wanted by police and anyone who knows his whereabouts is asked to contact police immediately.