Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and Crown Prosecution Service defeat drugs gang

30/06/2010

Operation Chronos was investigated by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary's Serious Organised Crime Investigation Team (SOCIT). The investigation was run in close co-operation with the Crown Prosecution Service's South West Complex Casework Unit, based in Bristol, headed by Ann Reddrop. Ray Tully was appointed as counsel for the prosecution and later joined by Ian Glen QC.

The operation was directed at Shaun Michael Pepperell who had previously been the subject of Operation Sylvia, a Devon and Cornwall investigation focusing on money laundering. Pepperell was identified as being a major supplier of controlled drugs into Exeter and other parts of Devon and Cornwall.

A series of co-ordinated warrants and arrests were carried out in November 2008 and February 2009 under the name of Operation Grace. Pepperell was arrested on both occasions along with a number of individuals who were identified as suspected couriers. Quantities of drugs and large amounts of counterfeit currency were seized along with a large number of mobile phones. These mobile phones would eventually form a key part of the evidence.

Through intelligence and telephone analysis it was established that Pepperell had links to an established operational crime group from the London area.

It became apparent early in the operation that Shaun Pepperell was unlikely to handle the controlled drugs himself, so it was essential to build the evidential case with the intention of proving a conspiracy.

During the course of 2009 a number of couriers were apprehended with the assistance of the Road Crime Unit and the Traffic Department. Seizures of cannabis and substantial amounts of cash were made.

In September 2009 Pepperell was charged with conspiracy to supply cannabis, together with Jason Hutchings, Neil Western, Mathew Mingo, Gavin Squires, Patrick Hurley, Christopher Land and Joshua Sprague, all of who denied any involvement or offered no comment.

A ninth defendant was also charged with the same offence but intimated at an early stage that he wished to assist the prosecution. During interview he fully admitted his involvement with Pepperell over many years, acting as a courier for him and transporting cocaine, cannabis and cash. He was dealt with under new legislation (S.73 Serious Organised Crime & Police Act) and became a witness for the prosecution. In January 2009 he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply both cocaine and cannabis. This was the first time the force had dealt with anyone under this legislation.

As a result of the ninth defendants testimony, further charges of conspiracy to supply cocaine were added to those offences already charged. It had long been suspected that Pepperell was involved in the supply of class A drugs as well as cannabis and this was now supported by the co-operating defendants evidence.

The prosecution case was built around a number of key areas:

  • Mobile phone data. From the mobile phones seized over 300 SPOC applications relating to cell site and call/billing data.
  • ANPR data from subjects vehicles at various locations around the country.
  • Drug and cash seizures.
  • Bad character evidence showing Pepperell's connections with a number of convicted drug suppliers from other areas such as Thames Valley, Bedford, Nottingham, Kent and Southampton.
  • The testimony of the ninth defendant.

The case was due for trial at Exeter Crown Court on 24 May 2010. It concluded on 26 May as the other eight defendants admitted the following charges:
Pepperell

  • Conspiracy to supply cocaine 2007
  • Conspiracy to supply cocaine 2008/9
  • Conspiracy to supply cannabis

Hutchings

  • Conspiracy to supply cocaine
  • Conspiracy to supply cannabis

Western

  • Conspiracy to supply cannabis

Mingo

  • Conspiracy to supply cannabis

Squires

  • Conspiracy to supply cannabis (previously admitted)

Hurley

  • Conspiracy to supply cannabis

Land

  • Criminal possession of property (S.329 POCA-money laundering)

Sprague

  • Criminal possession of property (S.329 POCA-money laundering).

The case generated over 1500 documents, 650 exhibits resulted in an 84 page case summary.

Commenting on the prosecution of the case, Ann Reddrop, head of the CPS South West Complex Casework Unit, said: "This was a very large operation which involved compiling a great deal of complex evidence to support the prosecution case. We were greatly assisted by the fact that the police identified the need for early support from the CPS. By working together closely, the prosecution team has been able to achieve this excellent result."

The eight offenders are due to be sentenced on 2 July 2010 at Exeter Crown Court.