Organised crime gang jailed after supplying 'huge quantities' of heroin and cocaine in Preston

Eight men have been sentenced following a major police operation investigating the supply of Class A drugs in Preston.

By Sean Gleaves
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 2:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 5:02 pm

Operation Whistler was an investigation into the supply of huge quantities of Class A drugs and money laundering in Preston and the surrounding area.

Niall McFarlane – the gang’s kingpin - sourced the drugs wholesale before distributing them to members of the gang who would adulterate them.

The drugs would then be sold to users through a ‘drugs line’ – phone numbers used to advertise drugs for sale.

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An organised crime group have been sentenced to a total of almost 60 years in prison after supplying Class A drugs in Preston. (Credit: Lancashire Police)

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DC Richard Shires said: “This OCG, who were based mainly in Preston, brought misery to the streets of the city and beyond by dealing Class A drugs.

“Their sole motivation was financial gain and with no thought for the impact on others.”

The gang used an encrypted mobile phone network called Encrochat to communicate with each other and conduct their deals.

Niall McFarlane – the gang’s kingpin. (Credit: Lancashire Police)

The Encrochat servers were taken down in 2020 following a huge and long-running investigation led by the National Crime Agency – Operation Venetic.

Detectives launched Operation Whistler in 2019 and through months of painstaking work pulled together the evidence to show how McFarlane – codename Rawbear – and his gang were sourcing and selling drugs.

McFarlane and six other members of the OCG were sentenced this week to a total of almost 60 years behind bars.

An eighth member of the gang was given a suspended sentence.

“We know the destruction that drug dealing brings to our communities,” DC Richard Shires added.

“Drugs destroy lives and those involved in the supply of drugs have no regard for the lives they affect and the harm they can cause, and we are committed to pursuing those involved in serious and organised crime and bringing them to justice.

“These sentences .. show the level of our commitment and how seriously this type of activity is viewed by the courts.

“I am delighted that these sentences will see dangerous people removed from the streets of Lancashire for a considerable period and I hope that our communities feel reassured that we are taking positive action and will continue to support us in our efforts to take the fight to criminals and make our streets safer.”

These were the sentences:

– Niall McFarlane, 29, Maxy House Road, Preston: 11 years three months

– Pritesh Chohan, 29, Lyndon Close, Preston: 10 years

– Ben Sanders, 31, Lovat Road, Preston: nine years six months

– Daniel Quinn, 30, Holme Slack Lane, Preston: nine years

– Steven Crook, 31, Westfield Drive, Preston: seven years six months

– Owen Collier, 23, Woodacre Road, Preston: five years four months

– Daniel Hughes, 38, Lovat Road, Preston: four years

– Ethan Knowles, 21, Maple Grove, Preston: two years suspended

All the above - with the exception of Knowles – admitted conspiracy to supply Cocaine, conspiracy to supply heroin and money laundering.

Knowles pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to supply heroin.

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