Court records show Merseyside gangs are still fighting to take over Jersey’s lucrative drugs market a decade after Curtis Warren was jailed for his island plot.
Ten years ago Britain’s most notorious drugs baron was locked up for plotting a one million pound cannabis shipment to Jersey.
Captured just weeks after being released from another prison sentence, the scheme landed him a 13 year term.
But instead of his fate acting as a warning to wannabe crime kingpins, it is his ambition to make major cash from drugs that is proving to have the greatest influence .
This week four men, all from Merseyside, were locked up after their importation plot was busted by the States of Jersey Police.
They are just the latest in a long line of drug smugglers from the region to lose their battle with a force that views stopping illicit substances from hitting the island’s streets as a top priority.
Jersey: The tiny island that offers big rewards for those willing to take a risk
A tourist hotspot and a magnet for millionaires – and in some cases billionaires – Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands.
Just 14 miles from the French coast, it is closer to Paris than Liverpool .
Yet for key players within the city’s underworld it has long been seen as a potential drug dealing outpost .
In part, this is down to just how hard it is to import drugs to the island.
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
With no land route available, smugglers are unable to exploit the road and rail network that has been crucial to big city gangs from Liverpool, Manchester and London taking over the mainland drug trade, with Merseyside networks dominant from Cumbria to Cornwall .
This leaves air and sea as the only options – with criminals then reliant on modes of transport that are both more temperamental and easier to police.
Like in all forms of business – legitimate or otherwise – an increase in risk leads to a rise in price.
Therefore Jersey’s drugs market is far more lucrative than anywhere on the UK mainland.
Case records from the island’s Royal Court suggest that, over the past three years, the starting street value of a gram of cocaine has been £80 – sometimes double, depending on its purity.
National Crime Agency findings suggest the average cost of a gram on the mainland is £40.
A gram of heroin can sell for £400 on the island – five times what is viewed by detectives as the standard price in most cities.
Smuggling challenges leaves island drug trade open to only the most brazen criminals
The spoils of a successful smuggling plot are significant, but so is the challenge in overcoming the twin obstacles of the sea and the States of Jersey Police.
Which means the Jersey drugs market is open for exploitation to only the most sophisticated, or at least best resourced gangs.
Neil Heskin, John O’Connor and Alan Smitton – busted twice (Image: Jersey Police handout)
Studies by the NCA have named Merseyside as one of the UK’s largest ‘exporters’ of crime , with only London gangs said to be responsible for more criminal activity beyond their regional borders. Manchester outfits follow closely behind.
This is essentially down to the ability of Mersey gangs to not only access drugs, but to oversee their own importations.
Making use of historical connections and tactics linked to Liverpool’s heritage as a port city, the top tier of the city’s gangland remains active – and influential – in the Netherlands and Spain, the key hubs for European drugs distribution.
Warren was key in taking this further and dealing direct with those controlling the actual production of drugs.
Curtis Warren arrives at The Royal Court in St Hellier, Jersey, for his trial over an alleged £1m drug smuggling plot
Some who have followed his path remain active in Colombia and Turkey , key locations on the cocaine and heroin supply routes.
As a result, for some time Merseyside has been a national drug distribution hub and, as substances flow down the chain those operating closer to the ground have sought new markets.
With troublemakers on Merseyside having greater access to drugs – and the guns that follow the same supply lines and are used to protect their ‘territory’ – it is often easier for gangs to target other towns than risk a turf war by encroaching on a neighbouring estate.
And Jersey, for those willing to take on the risks, is the most lucrative.
Heroin container seized during a States of Jersey Police operation that busted a Merseyside-controlled drugs plot. Image: States of Jersey Police
Coupled with that is the dilemma for police on the island: The more successful they are in preventing drugs from reaching the streets, the higher the prices rise, increasing the incentive for those daring to profit from the misery of addicts and recreational users there.
Sophistication or stupidity? Plots dependent on foreign contacts and ‘expendable’ couriers
It is a battle that is dependent on resources and contacts.
Those willing to try need access to drugs , enough support to evade the authorities, or enough influence to force others to do their dirty work.
Jailed drugs baron Curtis Warren at Jersey airport
With the island so close to France, those interested in smuggling serious quantities need to be able to source drugs on the continent and arrange transportation from the French coast too.
This immediately cuts the island off from the majority of British gangs, many of which rely on the few with foreign contacts to bring drugs into the country for them to later sell.
This barrier is not so difficult to overcome for Merseyside’s top level operators.
Courts all over Europe have heard of international smuggling plots originating from the region that have involved light aircraft and chartered fishing trips, cocaine hidden within lead ingots and pineapple shipments.
In that context, hiring a small boat to land a consignment on a Jersey bay in the dead of night is by no means the most audacious of plots.
Map showing countries across the world where Curtis Warren has contacts.
This is what happened in 2005, when three of the men jailed this week – Alan Smitton, Neil Heskin and John O’Connor – were first caught smuggling drugs into Jersey.
That plot – which came before Warren’s £1m operation – saw cannabis to the value of £400,000 reach dry land.
The three landed 279 bars of cannabis resin on Belcroute Bay, one of the island’s beaches.
This time the three were linked to a 40kg haul of cannabis resin given a street value of £500,000, with Smitton separately held responsible for a £405,000 heroin consignment also found on the island.
The two plots both had their roots in Merseyside , and were both busted during raids under Operation Raven in November 2017.
Others have tried the same tactic – including two French couriers jailed for a similar plot which was recreated by two Liverpool men locked up in 2016 after taking heroin worth just over £200,000 onto the island.
Liverpool drugs baron Curtis Warren
Their plan included the hiring of a RIB – a rigid inflatable boat – which was then loaded with the Class A drugs in France and used to transport them to the coastal village of Gorey.
Detectives monitoring their movements watched as the two took a selfie with the boat, sending arrest teams in shortly after.
A year earlier members of a gang led from Liverpool were jailed after their plot was rumbled.
That centred on them sending psychoactive drugs through the post.
Most psychoactive drugs – formally called ‘legal highs’ – have no identifiable odour, which is why varieties such as Spice have become so common in the UK’s prison system.
Heroin container seized during a States of Jersey Police operation that busted a Merseyside-controlled drugs plot. Image: States of Jersey Police (Image: liverpool echo)
At the other end of the scale of sophistication is the use of mules and couriers to take smaller quantities of drugs into Jersey on behalf of Merseyside gangs.
Those tasked with doing this have fallen into debt to dealers.
The Royal Court has heard several cases in which people have clocked up thousands of pounds in debts and then, unable to repay, have been forced to put their freedom at risk.
David Arrowsmith, 57 and who lived in Jersey but is originally from Liverpool, was jailed for four years and six months for his role in a drugs plot on the island. Image: States of Jersey Police (Image: liverpool echo)
Central to this tactic is the Easyjet service between Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Jersey .
Court records reveal how men and women are repeatedly captured flying to the island with condoms filled with cocaine and heroin worth thousands of pounds on the streets of capital St Helier.
Often the substances are only discovered after suspicious customs officials X-Ray the mules , the scans revealing the packages hidden inside their bodies.
Others have been caught with drugs after reaching the island on ferry services.
States of Jersey Police intent on protecting island’s streets from drug dealing – and the violence that can then follow
The latest sentencing , coupled with the cases that dot the Royal Court record books, make clear that a decade on from the sentencing of Toxteth born and internationally recognised gangster Warren, Merseyside gangs still view the drug markets of Jersey as a prize within their grasp.
After Warren and his gang were sentenced for their 180kg cannabis plot, a senior figure within the States of Jersey Police highlighted the severity of the force’s battle against the gangsters with eyes on the island.
He said: “Anything less than a show of determination will send out the wrong message to criminal gangs and leave the island exposed to be exploited by criminals who seek to reap the financial benefits of the lucrative drugs market which exists within the island.
CLICK TO PLAY
DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ‘WIKIPEDIA NARCO’ WHO WAS LINKED TO CURTIS WARREN’S MILLIONS
“It will also potentially expose the island to the types of violence which is frequently associated with the drugs trade.
“We remain determined to make sure that this does not happen.”
Following the sentencing of Smitton, Heskin and O’Connor, similar messages of defiance were uttered.
Smitton, from Liverpool but a long term resident – and drug criminal – of Jersey was actually given one of the longest sentences in recent island history.
- Heskin, 39 and who has lived in Wallasey and Kirkby either side of his last Jersey jail stint, was handed seven years and six months.
O’Connor, originally from Wallasey , visited the tourist hotspot from his home on Merseyside to co-ordinate the storage and supply of drugs on the island.
The 61-year-old also received seven years and six months.
Commenting in the aftermath of the latest States of Jersey Police drugs case linked back to Merseyside, Acting Chief Inspector Craig Jackson said: “Illegal drugs have a devastating impact on society, with the most vulnerable often suffering disproportionately. The men sentenced today have repeatedly sought to profit from the misery of others.
“They have acted with a sense of impunity and shown little or no remorse for their actions.
“They considered Jersey to be a soft target – nothing could be further from the truth.”