THREE men from the Ribble Valley are in prison after police caught a gang red-handed with more than half a million pounds’ worth of cannabis.
The sentencing at Preston Crown Court followed an investigation by Lancashire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, which uncovered cannabis valued around £550,000 hidden in imported stone planters at one defendant’s exclusive home in Sawley.
The longest sentence was handed to Thomas Beard (51), of Acorn Lodge, Longsight Road, Clayton-le-Dale, who was jailed for three years eight months. He had been jailed in 2008 for his part in another criminal gang involved in a £4m. car import fraud.
Beard’s son, Thomas Beard Jnr (29), also of Longsight Road, was given two years three months.
Both father and son are said to be members of the travelling community.
Nigel Monk (44), of Southport House, Sawley, described as a businessman, was jailed for two years four months.
Two other members of the gang were Simon McGuffie (40), of Childwall Abbey Road, Liverpool, who was sentenced to two years 10 months, and Duncan McKee (27), of Luggieburn Walk, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, who was jailed for three years and one month.
All five had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to conspiracy to supply a class B drug.
The first haul – around 76.4kilos – was found after officers stopped a van off the M57 in Merseyside in September last year. The driver, 32-year-old Terrence Culshaw, of Woolheath Avenue, Liverpool, was later jailed for 32 months after admitting possession with intent to supply cannabis at Liverpool Crown Court. Following this, officers carried out an investigation linking Beard Snr and McGuffie to the supply chain.
On November 16th last year, police spotted a lorry being driven by Duncan McKee delivering a wrapped pallet to the home of Nigel Monk.
On opening the pallet, it was found to contain stone planters in which 113kg of cannabis resin had been concealed. It was later established the load had been brought from Spain.
Detective Inspector Simon Brooksbank of Lancashire Police said after the sentencing: “This has been a long and complicated investigation during which we uncovered a large amount of cannabis that had been concealed in plant pots and smuggled into the country.
“As a result we have prevented the drugs from making their way on to our streets, where they would ultimately have caused harm to our communities.
“The sentences given to these men reflect the organised way in which they carried out their crimes and will hopefully serve as a warning to others who are considering such an enterprise. We are determined to target those involved in drug supply chains and will do all we can to put them behind bars.”
In 2008 Beard Snr was jailed for nine months for his part with two other men in a car import fraud. They used fake identities to set up bogus companies and imported cars from Europe, then dissolved the bogus companies to avoid paying VAT. Preston Crown Court heard at the time that Beard had not paid tax or National Insurance for six years.
Police later seized £214,000 in crime proceeds from him.
Beard Jnr had been jailed in 2007 for possession of an illegal air rifle and CS gas.