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Jersey streets paved with gold for drug criminals

Detective Sergeant Jim McGranahan, head of the States police priority crime team and a former London Met officer, said street prices for class-A drugs such as heroin could be as much as five or ten times higher in Jersey than in urban UK areas.

His words come as eight drug players, four of whom were born on Merseyside, were jailed for a combined total of more than half a century for their parts in conspiracies to bring almost £1 million worth of heroin and cannabis to Jersey. Alan Smitton, a Liverpudlian career criminal, who was living in the Island, was jailed for 17 years for his role in both the drugs operations.

During sentencing yesterday the court heard there were major links between the local enterprises and unknown criminal groups in Liverpool – one of the drug-exporting capitals of Europe.

The Liverpool-linked criminals are not the first to be jailed in the Island following a major drugs case. Most notably, drug lord Curtis ‘Cocky’ Warren, from Toxteth, Liverpool, and his associates were jailed after they were snared by a States police sting while they plotted to smuggle £1 million of cannabis into the Island. Warren was handed a 13-year jail term.

In other cases, Liverpool-born career criminals Michael Thomas Calvert (37) and Steven Paul Moore (39) took ‘selfies’ after their RIB, filled with almost a quarter of a million pounds’ worth of heroin, arrived at Gorey Harbour in 2017. They were being watched by States police and Customs officers and were later jailed for a total of more than 15 years.

There have also been numerous cases involving couriers, probably working on behalf of gangs based in the north-west of England, smuggling class-A drugs into the Island. Jersey mother Kara Pereira was 18 when she attempted to smuggle heroin into the Island internally as she flew from Liverpool to Jersey in 2012. She was caught and jailed. Four years earlier Anthony Hogan, then 26, attempted to import three bags of cocaine on behalf of Liverpool gangsters.

Customs officers and States police Special Branch detectives are regulars at the Airport when flights arrive from the city.

But DS McGranahan said Jersey had no greater drug links with Liverpool than cities such as Birmingham, London, Glasgow and Manchester, or European states such as Poland, Romania, France and Holland. Many organised-crime gangs in those countries see Jersey as a target for one sole reason – money, the detective said.

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‘There is certainly a link between Jersey and Liverpool, but it’s no greater than with other cities. We are rarely going to get people coming from these areas who are involved in the criminal world who do not want to make some money,’ DS McGranahan said. ‘And it all comes down to street prices. A gram of heroin in Birmingham might cost you £40 to £80. In Jersey, if you’re buying the gram outright, it’s £300 to £400, but if a dealer is splitting that up into 50 bags – bite-size bags worth £50 – a gram can be worth £1,000. That is serious cash.

Criminals see there is money in Jersey too. We don’t have the same problems here they do in the UK’s larger cities – unemployment is very, very low, so almost everyone has some disposable income, so there is money to be spent on drugs.

‘And because we are an island, there are challenges with getting the drugs in. That, together with the the fact that the risks are massive if you get caught, drives up the street price.’

The background

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One man linked both drug operations – worth a combined total of more than £1 million – that were foiled by the States police priority crime team: Alan James Smitton. But the force had to be patient to get their man.

In the end, trace amounts of DNA extracted from the inside of a protein powder tub that housed a mammoth haul of the class-A drug heroin, worth more than £400,000, linked Smitton, who is no stranger to the inside of a prison cell, to the crime.

The forensic evidence was likely to have come from minute skin scrapings from Smitton’s hand as he reached inside the tub to handle the drugs. It was the tiny chink in the career-criminal’s armour that gave the States police the evidence they needed to build a case against their target.

Operation Raven began in September 2017. Undercover officers from the States police priority crime team began surveillance on Liverpudlian John O’Connor, who was then travelling regularly to the Island from Liverpool, and started building a case against him and his associates.

DS McGranahan, head of the team working on the operation, said officers could spend up to 20 hours a day working at the height of a surveillance job.

‘Obviously the quicker we get it done the better for the taxpayer in the end, but if it takes a long time, it takes a long time. Luckily, we have bosses here who are very supportive of our work. Surveillance is like you see, long-range cameras and that. We have a range of tools at our disposal,’ the officer said.

One of the challenges of this investigation was linking all those involved to each other. DS McGranahan explained that ‘secret recordings’ were obtained of John O’Connor ‘slagging off’ Norman Templeton-Brown behind his back in a St Helier pub.

By 10 November 2017, seized cannabis, and evidence from phone records, surveillance and other sources, was enough to charge O’Connor and Templeton-Brown for their roles in the cannabis conspiracy. Neil Heskin, from Liverpool, was also arrested and later went on the run, but Smitton was not brought in.

DS McGranahan said: ‘We just didn’t feel we had enough at that time to charge him. We spoke with the LOD [Law Officers’ Department] and we were not quite there. They want us to be in a position where if we charge someone we can go to court the next day. They don’t want us to put charges on someone on a wing and a prayer.’

With two men charged, the police investigation rumbled on. DS McGranahan said that by December 2017 a heroin element of Operation Raven was ‘growing arms and legs’ and, again, Smitton was linked.

A £400,000 haul of the class-A drug was found inside a protein powder tub at a property in St Mark’s Road belonging to heroin addict Simon Reeves. He and an associate named John Banach, who was watched visiting the property, were arrested and charged for their roles in the heroin conspiracy.

Smitton missed it again by the skin of his teeth,’ said DS McGranahan. ‘We discussed it again with the Crown, but still found that we were not in a position to charge. We had seen Smitton meeting up with Banach; in fact, before June 2017 there was no contact between them but after then they were calling each other more than their girlfriends – that link was there. But there was no link with Reeves.’

Forensic officers moved in and found eight fingerprints on the side of the protein powder tub, which was housing the heroin. Six came back as a match to Banach and two were unreadable.

DNA swabs were also taken from the inside of the tub and, this time, three profiles came back: Banach, Reeves and Smitton.

‘When we brought him in, Smitton said: “Oh yeah, my DNA will be on that because I gave the protein to Banach, because he was trying to put on weight.” No one was buying that,’ the officer said.

Acting Chief Inspector Craig Jackson, who overseas the States police priority crime team, said: ‘Illegal drugs have a devastating impact on society, with the most vulnerable often suffering disproportionately.

The men sentenced today have repeatedly sought to profit from the misery of others. They have acted with a sense of impunity and shown little or no remorse for their actions.

‘They considered Jersey to be a soft target; nothing could be further from the truth.’

Reflecting on the sophistication of the drugs operations, DS McGranahan said: ‘There have been better, but these were well-established players in the drugs game.’

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