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Fridge van drugs plotters jailed for almost 90 years

Nine men and a woman who used a refrigerated van to try to smuggle cocaine and heroin through the port of Dover have been jailed for eighty-nine-and-a-half years.

The sentences follow an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) into a six-strong Liverpool-based organised crime group centred around Edward Avis, 64.

NCA officers filmed Avis as he met his crew in the city’s parks, cemeteries and petrol stations in a bid to prevent his conversations being recorded.

He was sentenced to 12 years yesterday at Manchester Crown Court.

His associates Ian Pauline, 51, Phillip Cray, 54, Paul Firth, 41, Darren Hunter, 49 and Terri Mellor, 48, received sentences of forty-five-and-a-half years between them.

The group had plotted with four Kent-based haulage workers to bring drugs with a potential wholesale value of £464,000, street value £1.4m, to the UK from Antwerp, Belgium.

Latvians Andris Baltais, 40, Alekanders Voroneckis and Aigars Kokins, both 29, and Ukrainian Viktor Medvetskiy, 43, were sentenced to nine years, seven years, seven years and nine years respectively.

The conspiracy was brought to a close in March 2016 when Antwerp police officers, acting on NCA intelligence, watched Avis, Pauline, Voroneckis and Kokins conduct a handover in an alleyway.

Kokins and Voroneckis returned with a black bag to a refrigerated van.

customised fridge van

They were arrested moments after hiding 7.7kg of cocaine and almost 6.5kg of heroin, split into 13 packages, in a concealment under the van’s floor. 

Avis and Pauline drove away in a car before being stopped and arrested by the police.

On the same day NCA officers rounded up the six remaining conspirators in coordinated raids in Merseyside and Kent.

Analysis of texts sent between Medvetskiy, Baltais and Hunter on 3 March last year showed they had exchanged the address for the Antwerp handover.

Officers found the same address written on paper in a red Lacoste wallet in Paul Firth’s car and on a notepad at his house.

It was also on a notepad seized at Hunter and Mellor’s shared house, while indents on the cover matched phone numbers for Kokins and Voroneckis.

Mellor’s phone held photographs of the van concealment and in her and Hunter’s kitchen, officers found 85 sheets of cocaine-impregnated A4 paper and instructions for separating it from the paper.

Two bags containing a paracetemol and caffeine mix used to adulterate drugs were found in their bedroom.

Officers also seized 223g of cocaine at Cray’s address in Liverpool, with a potential street value of about £10,000.

NCA branch commander David Norris said: “The judge told them to expect substantial custodial sentences and the courts have delivered.

“If this group had been successful, the cocaine and heroin would have ended up on the streets of Merseyside with the profits funding more criminality.

“Our partnership with the Belgian police meant the drugs Avis got his hands on never reached the UK, putting an end to a cycle of harm before it got going.

“We’ll continue to work with our law enforcement colleagues in both the UK and the rest of the world to prevent smugglers from importing illicit cargo to the UK from abroad.”

Full sentences as follows: Edward Avis, 12 years; Ian Pauline, seven years; Paul Firth, eight years; Philip Cray, 12 years; Darren Hunter, 10 years; Terri Mellor, eight-and-a-half-years; Viktor Medvetskiy, nine years; Andris Baltais, nine years; Aigars Kokins, seven years; Alekandrs Voroneckis, seven years.


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