Teenager who was paid to oversee pill-pressing machine convicted after police seize huge drugs operation in Sunderland

A teenager paid to oversee a pill-pressing machine capable of producing fake tablets on an industrial scale has been convicted.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 10:16 am

Michael Cornwell, 18, was found inside a property in Silksworth after a member of the public reported hearing screaming and shouting from within.

After there was no response at the front door, police entered through the back door and spotted a pill-pressing machine which was turned on and was running in the kitchen.

Officers also found a store room filled with various large bags of white powder and a cement mixer, along with bags containing huge quantities of white tablets.

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Police discovered a pill-pressing machine along with bags containing huge quantities of white tablets.

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The tablets were tested and later confirmed to be Class C drug Etizolam, which are often used in the manufacture of fake ‘street’ Diazepam.

The operation, which was rumbled on December 20 last year, was estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, with bundles of 10,000 tablets sold for up to £2,000 each at street value.

Cornwell was placed under arrest and taken into custody, with the huge drugs operation seized.

As well as the pill pressing machine officers also found a store room filled with various large bags of white powder and a cement mixer.

On Tuesday, January 26, Cornwell, of Stockton, Cleveland, pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of a Class C drug when he appeared at Newcastle Crown Court.

He revealed he had been paid to look after the pill-pressing machines while they were running and had been persuaded by financial gain – but had no role in the onward distribution of the drugs.

The teenager will reappear at the same court to be sentenced on April 23.

Detective Sergeant Adele Reed, of Northumbria Police, said: “This was a drug-distributing operation on an industrial scale that was capable of pushing hundreds of thousands of fake pills onto the streets of Sunderland.

“This is not only illegal, but could have had potentially fatal consequences for the most vulnerable people in our communities if they had been taken excessively.

“While Cornwell clearly was not a main player in this criminality, having been paid to oversee the running of the machines, his crimes are very serious and he deserves to be convicted for his role.

“He must now live with the consequences of his naïve decision to get involved in this criminality of the rest of his life.

"He has a criminal record and this offence could appear when employers carry out DBS checks.

“Our investigation into this supply chain remains ongoing and we are committed to taking robust action against anybody found to have been involved under the banner of Operation Sentinel.

“We would ask anybody with information to come forward and speak to us.”

Anyone who suspects drug misuse or supply in their area should contact police by calling 101 or via the ‘Tell Us Something’ page of the website. Alternatively call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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