Boyfriend, girlfriend and mum in dock as £350k of cocaine found in TK Maxx suitcase

David Whiteside
David Whiteside -Credit:Merseyside Police

A couple were caught with nearly half a million pounds worth of drugs after their car was pulled over on the motorway.

Chloe Armstrong wept in the dock yesterday as her boyfriend David Whiteside was locked up over a haul of illicit class A substances worth nearly £350,000, which was discovered in a TK Maxx suitcase in their boot. However, she and her mum Lisa Armstrong walked free from court despite a further £130,000 of cocaine, heroin and cannabis resin being discovered when their home was raided.

Liverpool Crown Court heard on Monday afternoon that a Ford Focus was stopped by Merseyside Police between junctions one and three of the M58 westbound at around 5pm on June 9 last year. 33-year-old Whiteside was driving the car, while his partner Chloe Armstrong was the front seat passenger.

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Henry Riding, prosecuting, described how the former "volunteered that items of interest were located in the boot". His 22-year-old girlfriend meanwhile told officers that there was money in the rear, as well as "other stuff", but said that "other people were involved".

A grey TK Maxx suitcase in the trunk was then found to contain four blocks of "high purity, import quality" cocaine embossed with dollar signs and weighing just under 3.5kg. These drugs were said to have been worth up to £345,200, with monies totalling £45,320 also discovered inside a plastic bag in the vehicle.

Following her arrest, former care worker Armstrong commented "I don't want to go to jail". Her mum Lisa Armstrong's home on Barn Hey Road in Kirkby, where all three defendants lived, was subsequently visited by PCs, who spotted the grandma-of-18 grabbing a yellow plastic bag and covering it with a towel before stashing it in a kitchen cupboard.

This bag was subsequently found to contain four blocks of heroin weighing nearly 2kg and valued at as much as £117,780. A further 129g of cocaine, worth up to £12,900, and two bags containing £1,690 of cannabis resin were also seized from the property, as was a cash counting machine and "large quantities of adulterants and items used in the production of amphetamine".

Under interview, Lisa Armstrong told detectives that she had lived in the house for four to five years and that her daughter had moved in with Whiteside. She however denied that drugs were being kept at the address and that she had attempted to hide the heroin.

Chloe Armstrong - who, along with her boyfriend, remained silent when questioned - has no previous convictions. Rebecca Smith said on her behalf: "It is correct to say that immaturity played a part in Ms Armstrong's involvement in this case.

"She is in a relationship with Mr Whiteside and continues to be in a relationship. It is hoped that that relationship will continue while he serves his term of imprisonment.

"This is the first time she has been before the court. It has been a very lonely and solitary experience for Ms Armstrong who, at the beginning of proceedings, was remanded in custody for just over two weeks, a very frightening experience.

"She has her own mental health difficulties. One hopes that the short, sharp shock she has had will prevent her from ever appearing before these courts again."

Armed forces veteran Whiteside, of Halton Lodge Avenue in Runcorn, has 12 previous convictions for 20 offences. His counsel Philip Astbury told the court that his client was "almost at the bottom of a multi-faceted organisation" and added: "The defendant, as soon as the vehicle was stopped, took the police to the drugs in the boot of the car and pointed them out.

"He is not a man used to long prison sentences and is not a professional criminal. He is proud of his military service, but was involved in a significant road traffic accident in which his friend was killed.

"It had a significant effect on his mental health. Because of his position in the military, he did not feel able to accept prescription drugs because of the prejudice that would have existed at that time.

"He then began to use controlled drugs as a substitute and was drawn in to the type of criminal connections that that brings with it. After a promising start in life, he became drawn into organised crime.

"He has demonstrated industriousness. He had a number of jobs and trained as a bricklayer.

"Because of that drug problem which spiralled, he became drawn into debt. With an element of reluctance, he fell into this.

"Since he has gone into custody, he has continued to show that more positive side of his character. He has seized all of the opportunities provided to him in respect of education, and he has secured a cleaning job.

"His family are standing by him, and he is determined to return to the world of work and make something of his life. He is still young enough to be able to do that."

Lisa Armstrong's criminal record shows two entries for three offences between 2001 and 2011, although none for drug matters. Kate Morley, defending, told the court: "Ms Armstrong is a 54-year-old lady and, but for other people, perhaps would never have found herself in this situation.

"It is more akin to turning a blind eye as opposed to active participation. At this time, she was preoccupied with issues in her life and caring responsibilities.

"She was not aware precisely what the drugs were and their worth. She has never been around drugs.

"This was an alien world to her. That is perhaps why she was chosen.

"She bitterly regrets having any involvement in this activity. She wants the court to know that she does accept responsibility and she is most disappointed in herself and her daughter.

"Ms Armstrong has had a fair amount of trauma in her life. That has ultimately had an impact on her thoughts and decision making.

"She sadly had a heart attack five years ago and has had other health issues. She is a grandmother to 18 grandchildren, and she is a lady who is well thought of in the community and always willing to help out."

Whiteside admitted possession of cocaine, heroin and cannabis resin with intent to supply and possession of criminal property. He was jailed for seven years.

Chloe and Lisa Armstrong pleaded guilty to permitting premises to be used in the supply of cocaine, heroin and cannabis resin. They were handed 15 months and 13 months respectively, prison terms which were suspended for two years.

Both were also told to complete rehabilitation activity requirements of up to 20 days and must serve four-month electronically monitored curfews from 8pm to 6am. Chloe Armstrong was seen wiping away tears in the dock as the sentences were handed down.

Recorder David Knifton KC told "courier and warehouseman" Whiteside: "Initially, you were storing these drugs for others in order to repay your own drug debt and acting as a courier in transporting drugs in your car. I am relieved to hear that you have shown exemplary conduct during the period you have been in custody."

The judge told Chloe Armstrong during his sentencing remarks: "You chose to turn a blind eye. I have had regard to your own mental health problems and that you had previously been in employment as a carer."

Recorder Knifton added to Lisa Armstrong: "You were again aware of the packages in your home, knowing that - to use your words - they were shady, yet you turned a blind eye and tried to conceal them as the police raided your home. You are old enough to know better.

"I take into account your physical and mental health problems and the positive references which have been written about you. It is time that you started setting a positive example to your family rather than seeking to excuse the actions of your daughter.

"Those who involve themselves in the supply of class A drugs and the misery that such supply causes must expect to receive significant punishment. With considerable hesitation, I am persuaded that it would be appropriate to suspend the sentence in each case."

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