Preston gang dealt drugs to mum with pushchair

Avenham Park

Avenham Park

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It is one of Preston’s best known family parks.

But for 14 months, Avenham Park played host to a sinister and sophisticated drugs operation.

As ‘top dog’ Ryan Malik splashed out on a lavish lifestyle, purchasing a BMW and taking extravagant holidays, his gang of dealers and runners peddled heroin and crack cocaine on the banks of the River Ribble.

In February 2014, a joiner, working there discovered a loaded firearm – with no safety catch – crudely stashed in the base of a hollowed out tree close to the Belvedere.

It was one of a number of chilling discoveries which came to light as surveillance officers mounted an operation to disrupt the flow of Class A drugs into the city. As he handed down prison sentences totalling more than 82 years, Judge Robert Altham said: “Avenham Park was used not only to sell illegal drugs but also to hide them. It is an area frequented by families including children. The dangers of drugs being sold in a public park are obvious.”

During a six-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the jury saw shocking footage of drug deals taking place in broad daylight, with one woman buying crack as she wheeled a young child in a pushchair.

Malik and his ‘lieutenants’ Ruben Vitorino and John Hope were seen in the park burying drugs. Gang members sent out thousands of “block” text messages to known addicts, offering special offers to entice them to buy drugs.

Brett Gerrity, senior crown prosecutor for the CPS said: “The ‘Avenham gang’ were were responsible for supplying massive quantities of heroin and crack cocaine over a 14-month period. They played specific roles within the conspiracy, with Malik being at the head. Although he was never far away from the action, he orchestrated it that he was never directly involved in drug deals. Evidence showed he controlled and directed the gang, working closely with Ashley Keaney, Ruben Vitorino and Ashley Tunstall.”

DCI Ken Mclean, of Lancashire police, added: “Malik and his criminal associates were a blight on Preston, and the sentences send a clear message that the police and community will not tolerate this drug dealing behaviour.”

• Ryan Malik, 27, of Kingsfold Drive, Penwortham was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and jailed for 15 years with a serious crime prevention order on release.

Ashley Keany, 27, of HMP Liverpool, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and jailed for eight years.

Ashley Tunstall, 25, of St Austin’s Road, Preston was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and jailed for 13 years.

Ruben Vitorino, 22, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to affray and was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was jailed for nine years and two months.

John Hope, 26, of Worsley Road, Preston, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was jailed for six years and nine months.

Ainsley Cox, 22, of Avenham Terrace, Preston, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was jailed for six years.

Reece Connor, 18, of Cemetery Road, Preston, admitted two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and one count of possessing a bladed article was jailed for four years and eight months.

Shaun Abbott, 23, of Walnutwood Avenue, Bamber Bridge, admitted two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was jailed for four years and 10 months.

Denise Bradley, 46, of Derby Square, Preston, was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and jailed for five years.

Louis Brown, 24, of Whitmore Place, Preston, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and wounding and jailed for seven years and six months. A unnamed youth was locked up for three years on two drug charges.