Drone gang who flew drugs and money into Warrington prison jailed
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An organised crime group who used a drone to smuggle illegal items into a prison in Cheshire have been jailed for more than 30 years.
Between August and December 2020 the gang undertook more than 20 drone flights over the grounds of HMP Risley in Warrington, delivering packages containing illicit items, including illegal drugs, mobile phones and SIM cards.
The five men and two women responsible for the activity appeared at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday 30 June where they were sentenced to the following:
Thurlus Smith, 33, of Waldrons Lane, Crewe, conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs and list B articles into a prison - 6 years and 1 month.
Matthew Cooke, 33, of Grove Court, Alsager, conspiracy to supply class B drugs and list B articles into a prison -2 years, 5 months.
Katie Bickerton, 22, of Barnabas Avenue, Crewe, conspiracy to supply list B articles into a prison and possessing criminal property - 19 months in prison suspended for two years.
Daniel Johnson, 28,of Woodside Avenue, Alsager, conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs and list B articles into a prison and possessing criminal property - 6 years, 5 months.
Nicole Sims, 27, of Lawton Road, Alsager, possessing criminal property - 9 months in prison suspended for 18 months.
Charlie Swann, 26, of Rumford Street, Liverpool, conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs and list B articles into a prison - 7 years, 10 months.
Aaron Dodd, 31, of HMP Altcourse, Liverpool, conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs and list B articles into a prison - 7 years, 10 months.
This video shows the drone overflying the prison and a package being recovered.
The investigation into the gang began after several drones were sighted by prison officers flying within the prison grounds over a number of weeks. Cheshire Police and staff at HMP Risley conducted an extensive joint investigation which revealed an organised crime group operating inside and outside the prison. The evidence gathered revealed that Swann and Dodd, who were inmates in the prison at that time, were responsible for collecting the drone packages and then selling the items inside the prison.
The rest of the gang were responsible for purchasing and supplying the items, flying them into the prison and managing payments totalling in the tens of thousands of pounds. The drug expert witness estimates that the value of the drugs involved was between £347k and £1.7million.
At around 10.26pm on Monday 28 September 2020, a drone flight was reported over the prison. The following day prison officers conducted a cell search, where a package was located containing heroin, cannabis, two iPhones and nine SIM cards.
Following the initial search, the cell of Charlie Swann was also searched and four micro mobile phones were seized.
The gang's activity further increased on Thursday 15 October 2020, with yet another drone sighted within the prison’s walls.
CCTV taken from the time shows the drone with a package suspended underneath it, hovering outside the window of a cell, before a prisoner was then seen taking possession of the package through his cell window and the drone then disappears.
A final drone was spotted over C wing at HMP Risley on Monday 28th December 2020. This drone also had a package suspended from underneath it. A prisoner was then viewed on CCTV guiding the package into their cell window using a broom handle.
The drone then left the area and re-appeared 20 minutes later with another package and the prisoner again seen using the broom to get the package into his cell.
Following detailed investigation officers conducted a number of warrants at Cooke, Bickerton, Sims, Smith and Johnson’s addresses in Crewe and Alsager on 13 January 2023 where they recovered various items including; class A and B drugs, cash, mobile phones and four drones.
Officers also discovered that there had been financial transactions between Bickerton, Sims, Cooke, Smith and Johnson on behalf of the OCG, totalling in the tens of thousands of pounds.
After gathering a catalogue of evidence all seven defendants were charged with and pleaded guilty to their involvement in the case.
Following the sentencing Detective Sergeant Mark Naylor, of Cheshire Police Serious and Organised Crime Unit said:
“This is a fantastic result, not only have we removed seven members of a dangerous organised crime group, but we have stopped the supply of a large quantity of class A and B drugs as well as other prohibited items circulating within our prisons.
“This result could not have been achieved without the support of officers at HMP Risley, without their cooperation, we would not have been able to bring these individuals to face justice.
“While this gang is behind bars, our fight against illegal drugs and organised crime continues and as part of this we need support from local residents. We need the public to be our eyes and ears and to come forward with information regarding drug dealing in the areas they live in.
“If you have any information about illegal drug activity or any other criminal activity taking place, please report it to us on 101, or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, and we will do the rest.”