Gangster brothers who ran £7m empire tried to one up each other to gain approval of money laundering mum

Two drug-dealing brothers who ran a £7m empire constantly tried to one up each other to gain the approval of their money laundering mum.

The Fitzgibbon crime family are renowned on Merseyside for their criminal empire that imported multi-kilos of super-strength heroin and ecstasy from Turkey which they then distributed across their elaborate network. Consisting of drug baron brothers Jason and Ian and money laundering mum Christine, they built a global network in their bid to become the top dogs of Merseyside's criminal underworld.

But their elaborate network was foiled after an international police operation smashed an Istanbul drugs racket and followed the trail back to Merseyside where the family lived. The ECHO has looked back at the fortunes of the Fitzgibbon family and how their illicit business was undone as part of a new regular series looking at Merseyside's gangland.

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Previous media reports detailed how the brothers were brought up around crime, and as teenagers, oversaw protection rackets they ran to extort money from local businesses. After being schooled in crime by their mum, they would eventually move on to shoplifting and car theft, before graduating to feared hardmen who set up drug deals across Europe and South America.

In the late 1990s, police intelligence experts identified the brothers as key players in the crime scene, and in May 1998 Operation Black was launched aimed at bringing the pair and their cohorts to justice. Following a probe into the brothers, they pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to supply heroin and were both jailed.

The brothers were also accused of heading a multi-million pound operation to bring class A drugs into Britain on a ferry from Holland, but it was ruled by a bench of Dutch judges that the evidence was thin. Nevertheless, their time in prison did not put the brothers off a life of crime; if anything, it pulled them in deeper.

The fearsome brothers were not afraid to dish out violence to further their ambitions of becoming the top dogs on Merseyside, ruling the region with "fear and terror". In 2006 Jason, known as the family hardman, was involved in a major confrontation with a north Liverpool drug gang in a nightclub on Victoria Street. He was said to have been threatened with a weapon which resulted in a near riot.

On another occasion, Jason was jailed for his role in luring a car dealer to a spot in Whiston before unleashing a brutal attack with the help of two gang associates. The Fitzgibbon family were even suspected of being involved in a feud with Curtis Warren in the 1990s which only ended when the Toxteth man moved away from the city.

The brothers would often travel abroad for face-to-face meetings with drug cartel associates in Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Turkey. Detectives investigating the family believed the brothers had never had a legitimate income and no tax records for either were ever traced.

The pair developed numerous tactics to throw detectives off their scent. They conducted business meetings while jogging, would repeatedly take different routes and developed a secret language no one else understood. For example, "little fellas" were ecstasy pills, a "ticket man" was a courier and "a quid" was actually £1,000.

Mum Christine Fitzgibbon was an expert when it came to money laundering, managing the brothers' criminal network like a business secretary. She would book multiple flights for each trip in a bid to throw detectives off their scent and even advised them on exchange rates to optimise their profits.

All the while, she and her husband William claimed £1,500 a month in income support and pension credit. They lived in a smart detached house kitted out with lavish furnishings in leafy Mossley Hill, while Jason lived in expensive Aigburth and Ian in St Helens.

The brothers' homes were moderate, but they drove flash cars. Conscious about the impression this would give out, Christine once scolded Jason when he parked a Porsche sports car on her driveway. The family also enjoyed holidays at their luxurious villa in Spain, brought for over £300,000, but refrained for additional lavish trips abroad due to fears of attracting police attention.

Although the Fitzgibbons, known locally as the "Fitzys", built their criminal empire on ecstasy and cocaine, heroin would prove to be their downfall. The brothers were behind a plot to import 57kg of super-strength heroin from Turkey into the UK. But the scheme worth around £7m was foiled when a car with a boot full of the drug was found in Istanbul.

Intelligence from England to the Turkish police stopped the deal in its tracks and on September 26, 2011, five local drug traffickers were rounded up. Investigations by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) traced the planned drug importation back to Liverpool, with suspicions falling on the family. SOCA officers managed to plant a listening device inside the family home on Edale Road and over three years, they eavesdropped and recorded hundreds of hours of conversations.

The conversations recorded by the officers picked up the petty sibling rivalry between Jason and Ian who constantly bickered and sought their mum's approval. On one occasion, Jason howled: "Whatever he can do mum, I can do 10 times better." Ian responded: "But who do you know over there lad. Who do you know? Who brought everything back? When has yours brought anything back? When?"

Another time the brothers were recorded singing Jessie J's hit song 'It's All About the Money' as they boasted about their growing wealth. The aftermath of the failed drug deal in Turkey was also recorded, with Ian remarking: "That's the story of Jason's life, that Turkey thing. Three hundred quid...three hundred quid they owe us."

Once police had built up enough evidence through their painstaking operation, they raided the family's home and discovered the matriarchal Christine was far from hard-up when it came to finances. They discovered carrier bags containing £182,820 in cash were found hidden under the floorboards and in the central column of a dining room table.

Nearly £35,000 more was found in Ian's home in St Helens. The money was in a mix of English, Irish and Scottish bank notes indicating how far their criminal tentacles stretched. Crime writer and former ECHO contributor Graham Johnson told Channel 4 News that the family had been "major players in organised crime for 30 or 40 years".

The premises where the Fitzgibbon family ran their international drugs trade.
Images of Ian (left) and Jason Fitzgibbon in 2000

Speaking about how they stayed at the top for so long, Mr Johnson added: "They can be very intimidating and are very good at getting at witnesses, which is why the police find it very difficult to build cases, and they’re extremely good drug dealers, so it’s a recipe for success as an underworld crime family."

Appearing before Manchester Crown Court, prosecutor Paul Mitchell said: "The drug dealing involved huge quantities of both heroin and ecstasy. It involved the importation of multi-kilogram quantities of the drugs into this country and then the onward supply of those drugs.

"The scope of the enterprise was truly breathtaking. Those involved had established criminal networks not only in the United Kingdom but in foreign countries including Turkey, from where they were obtaining massive quantities of heroin."

In June 2013, Ian Fitzgibbon, then 39 and of St Helens, admitted conspiracy to supply heroin, MDMA and money laundering, and was sentenced to 14 years six months in prison. Jason Fitzgibbon, then 40 and of Aigburth, pleaded guilty to conspiring to import heroin and was jailed for 16 years. Christine Fitzgibbon admitted money laundering and was jailed for two years. Other gang members Daniel Smith, of Blundellsands, received 10 years for conspiring to supply MDMA, and Neil Williams from Waterloo was locked up for 21 months for money laundering.

The two brothers have continued to remain the media's spotlight in recent years by regularly appearing on the National Crime Agency's (NCA) crime list. The NCA, which replaced SOCA, each year publishes a list of criminals subject to Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPOs), legal requirements that restrict travel and possession of cash.

Earlier this year, Ian Fitzgibbon's son, Ian Jr, admitted his part in a heroin and cocaine conspiracy following the police hack of the encrypted messaging service EncroChat. During a brief hearing in March, Ian Jr pleaded guilty to the two drugs conspiracy charges, both dating from between September 2019 and June 2020, as well as one count of possessing criminal property in relation to £12,000 cash seized from him on 20 February 2024. In November 2023, he was acquitted of involvement in the murder of Ashley Dale.

For decades the Fitzgibbon family have been one of the principal names when it comes to organised crime in the city. Following their eventual conviction, Matt Burton of the SOCA said: "What we're talking about here is a family who have held a very tight rein on areas of Liverpool for quite a number of years.

"They thought they were untouchable. Their motive: Financial greed, and greed in terms of their status and notoriety."

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