A LARGE criminal gang responsible for flooding the streets of Exeter with heroin has been jailed for a combined 70 years – but the ringleader has gone on the run.
The drug dealers were handed the hefty jail terms at Exeter Crown Court this week following an 18-month investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police’s serious organised crime unit.
The main focus of the operation was Steven Blundell, a 34-year-old from Liverpool who would arrange for huge sums of heroin to be sent from the North West to Devon and Cornwall. This would be done via a number of couriers who would then pass on the supply to the local dealers and addicts.
Blundell was due to be sentenced along with several other members of the gang this week but did not show up for court. A warrant has been issued for his arrest and the public have been urged to call 999 and not approach him if they see him, or know of his whereabouts.
But in his absence several of his associates and foot soldiers were sent down for a range of drug conspiracy and money laundering charges.
DC Jason Braud, who led the investigation, said he was delighted with the result.
He said: “We are very pleased as it is a combined sentence of nearly 70 years for what was an extensive operation. The main players in particular have received significant sentences for their role and the total number we hope will rise significantly.
“This gang was responsible for a major supply of heroin into Devon and Cornwall.
“One of those supply lines was going into Tiverton and had links to the Exeter area. One of the defendants was stopped with a quarter of a kilo at Tiverton Parkway with an estimated street value of £25,000.
“We know he completed 41 other such trips. It is difficult to say that on every trip the amount of drugs was the same but it is clear that the removal of this supply chain certainly had a knock-on impact on the streets of Exeter.”
Following intelligence to target the group, Operation Raby was launched in September 2009 and ran until June 2011. A total of 39 arrests were made with 25 people charged, 1,500 exhibits seized and 1,200 documents generated.
Heroin with an estimated street value of £125,000 was seized along with £20,000 of cash, but the true scale and value of the operation is thought to be significantly larger.
DC Braud said: “Tiverton was the meeting point for Devon but we know the drugs supply line was extended into the county and we know the gang were in contact with several known heroin users in Exeter.”
The gang later extended the supply chain into Cornwall by linking up with a family in Bodmin.
But as monitoring increased the cards around the gang began to fall.
There were several other seizures including two socks containing more than £8,000 from a suspect who boarded a train at Newton Abbot, while other cash was found chucked in a bush after an road accident in Kenton. On another occasion heroin was found in a tub of paint.
Through phone records and DNA, police managed to piece the jigsaw together.
Those jailed this week are pictured, with their sentence.
Paul Corrigan was previously given five years at an earlier hearing. After a mix-up over dates Paul Blundell will be sentenced at a later hearing.
Steven Blundell did not show up to court and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Several other members of the gang will be sentenced later.