Sunderland drugs kingpin who survived assassination attempt back behind bars for 16 years

Two kilo blocks of heroin and other drugs recovered by police
Two kilo blocks of heroin and other drugs recovered by police

A drugs kingpin who masterminded a multi-million pound trafficking conspiracy within months of being back on the streets has been jailed for 16 years.

Former salvage yard boss Brian Ferguson was caged for ten years and stripped of half-a-million pounds worth of his criminal assets for importing amphetamine and cannabis in 2009.

Ferguson's illegally built empire, which included an eight-bed house equipped with luxury furnishings including a grand piano and a "panic room", were all seized and meant he came out to nothing in 2013.

He had already served a ten year sentence for drugs importation in the 1990s.

The 51-year-old dealer, of Bowood Close, Sunderland, who survived an assassination attempt when he was shot outside his plush home in 2009 by mystery gunman, denied he was back to being involved in the illegal drugs trade.

He rejected being linked to a huge, £1.5m haul of high purity heroin, cocaine and cannabis that was shipped to the northeast of England from Liverpool and found in a warehouse in Gatheshead.

Cannabis bars recovered by police

Cannabis bars recovered by police

But after a trial at Newcastle Crown Court jurors found him guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

He was also found guilty of breaching a Serious Crime Prevention Order designed to monitor his finances and communications.

Grandfather Stephen Vaughan, 57, of Ravensworth Appartments, Dunston, Gateshead, who is in poor health, pleaded guilty to the supply charges and was jailed for nine years and four months.

Judge Deborah Sherwin said she was convinced Ferguson and Vaughan were "at or near the top of this enterprise, as it existed in the northeast".

The industrial unit in Blaydon where drugs were found

The industrial unit in Blaydon where drugs were found

Courier Nicholas Wilson, 33, of Annie Street, Accrington, Lancashire, who made trips between Liverpool and the northeast, was found guilty of the drug supply charges after a trial and sentenced to eight years behind bars.

Christopher Stuart, 55, of Northlea, South West Denton, Newcastle, who prosecutors said was a "gofer" for the gang, was jailed for seven years. He had also been found guilty at the trial.

Judge Sherwin said: "This was a sophisticated and well thought out enterprise, all of you have experience of drug offending in the past.

"Drugs were only recovered on one occasion in December 2014. I am satisfied that this was the tip of the iceberg and that there were a number of similar deliveries over the preceeding weeks.

"The addiction to class A drugs, heroin in particular, causes a huge amount of damage, both to the individuals who use them and to society because of their offending to fund their habit.

"This involved transportation and cutting of high level drugs, of very high purity, clearly close to the importation."

The court heard the men were arrested after police raided a warehouse at an indiustrial unit in Blaydon, Gateshead, and found two kilos of heroin, half a kilo of cocaine and 43 kilos of cannabis, together worth £1.5m.

Prosecutor Jolyon Perks told the court: "It was a well organised enterprise.

"It was driven by dedicated criminals whose motivation was the reward to be had from trafficking large quintities of such drugs.

"It is the prosecution case that these drugs were transported from the Liverpool area over to the northeast on a regular basis."

Mr Perks said Ferguson played a "leading role" in the conspiracy and added: "He directed and organised the buying and selling on a commercial scale.

"He had links to and influence on others in the chain.

"He had close links to the original source."

Mr Perks said Ferguson, who will miss his young children growing up while he serves the long sentence, would have made "substantial financial gain" through the conspiracy.

Prosecutors claim a regular meeting point, where the conspirators would carry out their exchanges, was the Premier Inn at Washington.

The northeast faction had links with an organised crime group in Liverpool.

The gangs used "dirty" pay-as-you-go phones and hire cars to try and cover their tracks.

Some of the conspirators have not yet been caught.