Four face lengthy jail sentences after being convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine

Members of the drugs gang were convicted after a trial at Teesside Crown Court.
Members of the drugs gang were convicted after a trial at Teesside Crown Court.

Four men are facing years in prison after they were convicted of dealing cocaine from a network of houses in Sunderland and South Shields.

Andrew Blake brought large quantities of high purity cocaine to Wearside, where he was helped to 'bulk it out' and sell it by Christian Winter, Ian Ramshaw and David Murphy.

Prosecutors claimed Murphy's parents, Michael and Margaret, were involved in the supply of cocaine and cannabis.

Both Michael and Margaret Murphy were found not guilty of all charges after a joint trial with the other men which lasted more than six weeks.

"This case concerns a series of conspiracies to supply cocaine, Ecstasy, and cannabis in the East Durham and Sunderland areas," said Peter Makepeace QC, prosecuting, at Teesside Crown Court.

"It arises out of a surveillance-led operation by Durham Police which was codenamed Operation Sidra.

"The operation identified an organised supply chain centred around these defendants and others.

"The chain of supply involved many different people with many different roles, some more high profile than others.

"All playing a vital role are the importer, the warehouse keeper, the processor, the distributor, the wholesaler and the retailer."

The court heard large quantities of high-purity cocaine was brought into the area by Blake, assisted by Winter and Ramshaw.

Detectives identified at least four 'safe houses' used by the gang for the storing, bulking out, and distributing of the drugs.

* A house in Fletcher Crescent, Houghton-le-Spring, owned by Michael and Margaret Murphy.

* A house in Cambridge Road, Silksworth, Sunderland, lived in by Ian Ramshaw.

* A house in Osborne Avenue, South Shields, the home of defendant Winter.

* A house at Carlton Crescent, Farringdon, Sunderland, lived in by a woman who had previously operated a safe house when she lived in Fletcher Crescent.

Mr Makepeace said that as their cocaine network grew, those operating it branched out into other drugs.

"Blake, Ramshaw, and two other men went into the sourcing, processing and sale of Ecstasy tablets," he added.

"They bought pill presses to allow them to manufacture on a massive scale with their own branded tablets."

The gang kept their money in separate locations from the drugs, to minimise the risk of losing everything if they were raided, the jury was told.

"Andrew Blake found the perfect partner in crime in his father, Thomas Blake," said Mr Makepeace.

"When the police raided the home of Thomas Blake more than £100,000 of drug-contaminated cash was recovered from a secret compartment hidden at the bottom of a shelving unit.

"Thomas Blake was found busy trying to stash the cash in his pockets when he realised the police were raiding his address."

Ramshaw, 32, of Cambridge Road, Silksworth, Winter, 50, of Osborne Avenue, South Shields, Andrew Blake, 40, of Regent Court, South Hetton, and David Murphy, 38 of Avonmouth Road, Farringdon, were convicted of conspiracy to supply class A drugs between March 2014 and June 2015.

Thomas Blake, 77, of Jubilee Square, South Hetton, was convicted of converting criminal property.

Michael Murphy, 63, and Margaret Murphy, 61, both of Fletcher Crescent Houghton, were found not guilty of conspiracy to supply class A and class B drugs.

The court heard those convicted will be sentenced with other defendants who have previously pleaded guilty.

Lawyers for Ramshaw and David Murphy applied for bail pending sentence to give each man time to 'make peace' with his family before starting a prison sentence.

Judge Deborah Sherwin granted them bail, telling them: "I do so purely because young children and families are involved. Both must understand it will be a lengthy period of custody."

Winter and Andrew Blake were remanded in custody, but Thomas Blake was bailed after the court heard custody was 'not inevitable' in his case.

Judge Sherwin will pass sentence on a date to be fixed.