Criminal cousins stashed drugs in Blackpool holiday park for £1m 'secret lab'

Two criminal cousins stashed hundreds of kilos of drugs in a Blackpool holiday park before setting up a £1m 'secret lab' to create amphetamines, a court heard.

Terence and Stephen Earle were the brains behind a gang that trafficked vast amounts of heroin and cocaine between Merseyside and Scotland. The organised crime group (OCG) was spearheaded by "kingpin" Terence Earle and cousin Stephen, who used the EncroChat handles ThickBoar and Octo-hand respectively to import drugs from "Europe and beyond".

The duo also hid hundreds of kilos of drugs at a Blackpool holiday park, which served as their base for producing amphetamines in a £1m covert laboratory. However, the gang's operations were eventually exposed by a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation, dubbed Operation Joyfully, which aimed to dismantle the Earles' drug empire.


This probe was part of Operation Venetic, the UK NCA-led initiative targeting the breach of the encrypted communication service EncroChat. Last week saw Stephen Earle, who had fled overseas in July 2020 as the NCA closed in, become the last gang member to face justice.

After being extradited back to the UK following his capture by the Policia Judiciaria Fugitive Team in Faro, he admitted to charges of drug supply and is set for sentencing on June 14, the ECHO reports. The Earles enlisted the help of subordinates such as Stanley Feerick and Stephen King to carry out illicit activities.

The operation saw the group utilise European contacts to ship in drugs into the UK before setting up supply routes between Merseyside and Motherwell. They also had a "secret laboratory" that helped them pump out even more drugs into vulnerable communities.

However, the operation halted when Lancashire Police seized 560kg of alpha-phenylacetoacetamide - also known as APAA, a chemical used to make amphetamine - from the OCG in December 2020. The three pallets, comprising of 28 boxes in total, were found in the rear of a lorry which had been loaded up at a warehouse at Reams Hill Holiday Park - a caravan park in Weeton, near Blackpool - on Feerick's orders before being stopped by police using a stinger.

This quantity would have allowed for the production of around 1,000kg of the drug, worth £1.1m, at the "industrial scale" lab. The Earles and their associates had previously arranged for seven boxes of APAA to be transported in a Ford Transit van from the same site to a garage in Motherwell in March 2020, at the beginning of the first COVID lockdown.

Terence Earle also presided over the trafficking of heroin and cocaine to Merseyside from north of the border and in the opposite direction "with the assistance" of Lee Baxter. Covert surveillance captured a meeting between Feerick and King in November 2020, with the former arrested shortly afterwards while driving a lorry on the M6 southbound. A hold-all inside the HGV contained 2.9kg of heroin, class A drugs worth around £300,000, as well as £20,000 in cash.

A search of Feerick's address on Longreach Road, Dovecot, unearthed nearly £10,000 more. EncroChat messages showed the outfit had also been involved in shipping cocaine between England and Scotland, with Terence Earle, Baxter, Feerick and King all being arrested in March 2021. By that time, Stephen Earle had already left the UK several months before. An image released by the NCA showed Stephen Earle at Manchester Airport in July 2020.

A study of the EncroChat messages evidenced "go-between" Baxter had "provided assistance and logistical operations" for the OCG and acted as a courier, delivering £34,000 in cash to Bolton on behalf of Terence Earle to the user of the EncroChat handle "SlimZebra". King's involvement meanwhile was said to have been "limited to class B drugs".

Another conspirator, Stephen Singleton, used his "apparently legitimate chemicals company" in order to "supply the necessary ingredients for large amounts of amphetamine". He too operated using an EncroChat phone, giving Terence Earle his custom in "commercial if not industrial quantities".

Liverpool Crown Court heard in April 2023 that Terence Earle, of Freckleton Road in St Helens, was found to have been involved in the supply of at least 11kg of cocaine and discussions to traffic 19kg following a trial of issue, he having claimed that this figure was limited to 8kg.

Singleton, of York Road in Birkdale, was jailed for nine years and two months in January 2023 after he was convicted of conspiracy to produce amphetamine by a jury at Teesside Crown Court. This came in connection with a similar drugs lab located in a shed in a rural area near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which was capable of producing around £5m of amphetamine.

Baxter, previously of Devon Way in Huyton but more recently of Eldersfield Road in Norris Green, had a "single, unrelated" conviction from 2013 relating to a "confrontation at a golf tournament". The 48-year-old was made redundant from Jaguar Land Rover's Halewood plant in 2020 but subsequently secured work as a shift manager for a plastics company.

He then lost this job when the firm learned of his conviction, although he has since found further employment. Baxter previously gave an account that he had agreed to transport the cash after "chatting to people at a football match" and said he had received no reward for his involvement

King, of Garshake Terrace in Dumbarton, has four previous convictions for five offences. His defence claimed he had a "limited involvement" in the OCG's operations. However, in Feerick's case, the court found he had worked closely with Terence Earle and played an "important" role using his HGV employment as cover to ship the drugs.

In April 2023, Earle admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to produce amphetamine. He was jailed for 16-and-a-half years. Feerick admitted conspiracy to supply heroin and participating in the activities of an organised crime group three months later and was jailed for eight-and-a-half years.

By that time Singleton had also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce amphetamine during an earlier hearing. Appearing via video link to HMP Holme House in County Durham, he was handed 41 months behind bars - to be served consecutively to his current term.

Baxter admitted participating in the activities of an organised crime group. He was given a 22-month imprisonment suspended for 18 months, 150 hours of unpaid work and a rehabilitation activity requirement of up to 15 days. King was found guilty of participating in the activities of an organised crime group following a trial. He was handed 18 months suspended for 18 months plus 100 hours of unpaid work and a 15-day rehabilitation activity requirement.

Sentencing Terence Earle, the Honorary Recorder of Liverpool Judge Andrew Menary KC said: "You were a senior figure in this conspiracy. You must have had an established network of contacts. I am sure you were playing a leading role in this conspiracy. You were organising, buying and selling on a commercial scale. You had substantial links to others in the chain, with close connections to the original source. You must have had the expectation of substantial financial gain."

Stephen Earle is due to be the final man sentenced as part of the conspiracy after he pleaded guilty to four drug supply charges at Liverpool Crown Court this week. He will return to court on June 14 to learn how long he will spend in prison.

NCA Branch Commander Charles Lee said: "[Stephen Earle's] guilty plea shows that there is no hiding place for criminals who seek to avoid arrest by living abroad. The NCA has the international reach to find you and make you pay for your crimes.

"Stephen Earle was an integral part of this dangerous criminal organisation, which posed a serious threat to communities across Scotland and Merseyside. The drugs they trafficked would have fuelled violence and exploitation in these areas, so bringing this criminal group to justice has helped protect the public."