Six gang members who ran one of Britain’s largest drug rings have been jailed for smuggling £1.59bn worth of cocaine - in boxes of frozen chicken.
Stephen Rayner, 31, Cherie-Anne Rayner, 30, Liam Harrington, 39, Megan Budden, 23, Steven Gibson, 41, and Darren Hunter, 30, were jailed today on Friday (November 10) for a total of 58 years. The gang used a warehouse in Redditch to store the cocaine.
They were part of a criminal network which imported 15 tonnes of high-purity cocaine from the Mexican cartel ‘Nueva Generacion’ and distributed it around the UK.
They worked for a kingpin called ‘Fendi’ - hiding the drugs in boxes of frozen chicken - in what is thought to be the largest drugs operation in England and Wales. All the defendants pleaded guilty at hearings earlier this year and were sentenced today at Sheffield Crown Court.
Michael Quinn, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Yorkshire & Humberside, said the money-minded criminals were able to sell an “extortionate” amount of drugs.
He said: “Motivated purely by greed, these offenders were involved in a sophisticated criminal operation to import and distribute an extortionate amount of Class A drugs into the UK – the largest case the CPS has ever prosecuted.Working side-by-side with the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit, we were able to meticulously unravel the full extent of their criminal activity and build a strong case to bring these offenders to justice.
“We hope today’s sentencing sends a strong message to criminals; there is nowhere to hide from investigation and prosecution.
“Working closely with the police, we are determined to dismantle major organised crime groups like this one from top to bottom, whenever our legal test is met. We will be pursuing confiscation proceedings to recover the money they made from their criminal activity.”
The gang’s operation initially unravelled when police raided the home of Cherie-Anne Rayner and Liam Harrington in Beeston, Leeds, on September 10, 2022. There they discovered blocks of cocaine with an estimated street value of £14m and crystal meth with an estimated street value of £4.95m in a locked room.
They also found other paraphernalia used to repackage the drugs, cash, bank cards and passports.
Stephen Rayner was described as a ‘lieutenant-type’ in the group, which used the cover of a food delivery company to smuggle and distribute cocaine from a unit in Redditch. Megan Budden was then arrested on November 10, 2022, when police raided her home, which had been barricaded shut.
They later seized holdalls of Class A drugs worth an estimated £5.8million at the property.
From September to December 2022, police arrested other members of the drug ring, putting a stop to their massive enterprise. Police surveillance, CCTV footage and mobile phone data showed the extent of the operation, which spanned the length of England and into Scotland.
Steven Gibson and Darren Hunter were observed working as couriers between the ‘Scottish guys’ and the ‘Brum lot’.
It is estimated the total street value of the drugs Gibson transported was worth between £121 million and £200 million. Stephen Rayner was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Cherie-Anne Rayner was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and Steven Gibson was jailed for 12 years for the same offence. Darren Hunter was sentenced to six years imprisonment for possession with intent to supply a controlled drug of Class A.
While Liam Harrington was sentenced to three years imprisonment for participating in the activities of an organised crime group and converting criminal property. And Megan Budden was sentenced to two years imprisonment for participating in the criminal activities of an organised crime group.
A further defendant, Mazafer Hussain, 43, of Foxton Road, Birmingham, denies conspiracy to supply cocaine and will stand trial in April.