Biggest ever drug bust

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A drugs gang is today beginning prison sentences totalling more than 30 years after police smashed a plan to flood the streets with £1.25m worth of heroin.

A major police surveillance operation was able to track the 12.5 kilos as it came to the UK from Holland and was brought to Lancashire.

It is Lancashire police's largest ever drugs haul.

Much of the planning by the conspirators took place during meetings at car parks and pubs in Preston and Bamber Bridge, all watched by police who swooped in March this year.

Father-of-four Mark Neville, who owned and ran the CHR Logistics haulage and removals company in Bamber Bridge was watched by police as he met one of the leaders of the conspiracy.

Neville, 37, of Brandiforth Street Bamber Bridge, who used to be pub landlord of the former Tommy Tucker pub in the town, was seen passing on a holdall containing the imported heroin, Preston Crown Court heard.

The judge was told he had been associated with a well-known Blackpool-based drugs baron, who is still being sought by police, and had smuggled in cigarettes.

His counsel told the court that it was only "at the last moment" that he realised he had been given a Class A drug to pass on.

Neville, who with the rest of the defendants, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin, was jailed for eight years.

The court heard that Mark Gibson, 32, worked for Neville in his business and also lodged at his friend's home in Bamber Bridge.

He was said to have co-ordinated plans to bring in the heroin and had travelled with the Blackpool drugs baron to the continent in order to make arrangements for the importation. Gibson was jailed for 11 years after admitting the conspiracy. Prosecutor David Pickup said the huge consignment of heroin, which at street values could have been sold for up to 1.25m, was tracked by police to a quiet cul-de-sac in Rainhill, Merseyside, and arrests were made as the bag containing the drugs was actually being handed over.

Wayne Pilkington, 35, of Kelso Avenue, Thornton-Cleveleys, said to be the drug baron's "runner" , was jailed for six and half years after admitting taking part in the conspiracy.

The man who had been brought in to take the haul on, Nathan Slemen, 27, of Mona Street, Liverpool, described as a courier for the consignment, was jailed for seven years.

Sentencing the four, Judge Pamela Badley, praised Lancashire police for foiling a plan to bring a major haul of heroin onto local streets.

"This is a very grave case – a conspiracy to make available a massive amount of heroin onto the streets has been thwarted," he said.

Anyone concerned in the supply chain of such a large consignment must expect heavy punishment by the courts, added the judge.

After sentencing, officer in charge of the police operation Atlas, Det Sgt Lee Halstead of Lancashire Police's Major Crimes Unit based at Hutton, said the largest seizure in the forces history came at the end of a "complex case involving the gathering of evidence from the UK and Europe."

Det Sgt Halstead added: "We have dismantled a serious and organised crime group and prevented a substantial quantity of the most evil and socially disruptive drugs being peddled on the streets of Lancashire."

"Inquiries are on going in relation to the seizure of assets under legislation provided within the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure this organisation are well and truly dismantled and unable to continue their criminal activities in the future."