A drug dealer who allowed his home to be used as the headquarters of a notorious Preston gang has been jailed for five years and seven months.
When the net started to close in on the Avenham gang – who were jailed for more than 80 years – Andrew Jessop, 47, went on the run, using a false identity to evade the authorities in Chorley, Scotland and London.
But after returning to his home town of Preston, as fellow gang members started sentences of between three and 15 years, Jessop was taken seriously ill and was arrested as he was discharged from city’s Royal Preston Hospital.
Police launched Operation Fez in a bid to crack down on the supply of class A drugs in Preston.
During the 14-month operation, heroin and crack cocaine was pedalled from Jessop’s home in Wolsely Place and in warmer months, from Avenham Park. Up to 30 drug users a day were seen calling at Jessop’s house – always using the back gate and always staying for short periods of time.
Preston Crown Court heard the gang – headed up by Ryan Malik, 27, from Penwortham – was a sophisticated business, with access to firearms.
Malik was seen “holding court” at meetings with his lieutenants John Hope, 26, and Ruben Vitorino, 22, at Jessop’s home in Avenham.
On September 10, officers launched a string of early morning raids.
But when word got out that the drugs ring was being smashed, Jessop fled to Chorley.
He was stopped with a group of known drug users but gave false details – supported by a birth certificate he was carrying bearing the false name.
Having slipped past officers, he then travelled to Scotland to stay with gang member Ashley Tunstall, 25, was staying – but left before Tunstall was arrested.
Almost a year after his home was searched and his co-defendants arrested, Jessop was caught after a 10-day stay in Royal Preston Hospital where he was being treated for a blood clot on his lung – an illness he said he contracted sleeping rough in London.
He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin and crack cocaine.
Judge Robert Altham, sentencing, said: “It is clear from the weeks of evidence during the trial you made your home available to facilitate this conspiracy. It was an extremely valuable asset to the conspiracy and I am satisfied you made it willingly.”