He oversaw a £141m drugs plot but spent the last three years hiding in Spain

Christopher Gibney was jailed for 21 years for conspiring to fraudulently evade a prohibition on the importation of a Class A drug
-Credit: (Image: North West Regional Organised Crime Unit)

A drug dealer who moved "vast quantities" of heroin and cocaine through a UPS depot was caught after his Encrochat devices were cracked by police.

Christopher Gibney, 55, of Grenadier Drive, West Derby, used the names "Hastyshark" and "Lobsterball" on two encrypted EncroChat phones to arrange the movement of hard drugs to the UK.

He organised for the drugs to be moved from Spain and the Netherlands to an accomplice working at the Deeside depot before they were sent for onward distribution. The plot was said to involve £141 million worth of drugs, reports North Wales Live.

READ MORE: Police issue update on ‘the Ralla’ closure after Ellis Cox shot dead

READ MORE: Moment Daniel Gee led away in cuffs as police surround ‘pub’

In March 2021, three co-conspirators - including a team leader at the UPS depot - were caught and each jailed for 15 years in March 2021. But Gibney went on the run to Spain for three years. He was caught by police in the Costa Del Sol with false documents and extradited to the UK.

Gibney did not challenge his extradition, and was taken from Madrid to Westminster Magistrates Court in London in April and appeared at Mold Crown Court today to face sentencing.

A judge called it "rare" to catch a plot leader rather than "footsoldiers and lieutenants". He had been at the top of the pyramid in the plot, which took place between May 2019 and October 2020.

There had to be a deterrent sentence, the judge said. He was prepared to risk a long sentence and thought nothing of the harm and misery caused to communities while making a fortune.

Prosecutor Ffion Tomos told how Gibney had headed a "sophisticated and well-organised crime organisation responsible for importing vast quantities of cocaine and heroin from Spain and the Netherlands into the UK". Seizures alone accounted for over 20kg of heroin and 8kg of cocaine.

One of the packages sent via UPS and containing Class A drugs
One of the packages sent via UPS and containing Class A drugs -Credit:North Wales Police

Empty waybills labels were filled in and addressed to innocent companies - including a garage in Lower Denbigh Road, St Asaph - and placed on drugs packages.

These were marked postage paid so they didn't cost the criminals anything. The packages were transported via road and ferry rather than air, which would have necessitated x-ray checks air airports.

Their progress from mainland Europe was carefully tracked, and UPS manager Daniel Taylor, from Holywell, would ensure he was on shift when they passed through his depot. He intercepted these parcels - up to three a week - and scanned the parcels out.

As an example, on September 11, 2020, Taylor met accomplice Darren Roberts, from Bagillt, at 6.15am with another co-conspirator, Stephen Metcalf, and gave them a parcel which they then handed on. Ms Tomos said this waybills system was used to import drugs from Europe to the UK 150 times.

The "vast majority" went undetected but there were seizures. In one on March 2020 UK Border Force intercepted a parcel from Amsterdam which was labelled "Car Parts Essex", for the garage in the St Asaph area.

It would have gone through the Deeside depot but officers opened it and found 6.9kg of heroin worth almost £500,000. The garage had no knowledge of what would have arrived, the court heard.

A drugs expert said the total of seized Class A drugs and those not intercepted would have weighed between 984kg and 1,304kg. If split equally there would have been heroin with a street value of £49,214,260 and cocaine worth £92,000,000, making a total of £141,214,260.

The street value of actual seized amounts was £1,496,280 of heroin and between £342,720 and £1,142,400 of cocaine. Ms Tomos said Gibney left the country but he was arrested in Spain on March 11 this year with false identity documents.

Anthony Barracough, defending, said his client never disputed his guilt nor challenged any extradition back to the UK. He asked for a full one third discount in the inevitable jail term but the judge His Honour Rhys Rowlands said an unequivocal indication of guilty pleas had not been given early enough.

Gibney was jailed for 21 years for each of two counts of conspiring to import Class A drugs, with one term to run concurrently. In March 2021, Daniel Taylor, 44, from Holywell, Darren Roberts, 50, from Bagillt, and Stephen Metcalf, 47, from Bromborough, Wirral were all jailed for 15 years for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

L-R. Daniel Lee Taylor, Darren James Roberts, Stephen William Metcalf
L-R. Daniel Lee Taylor, Darren James Roberts, Stephen William Metcalf -Credit:North Wales Police

Detective Inspector Dave Worthington, of the NWROCU’s Operations Team, said: “This group, led by Gibney, ran a sophisticated operation, using waybills to import multi kilos of Class A drugs into the UK, some of which is highly likely to have ended up on UK streets.

"They made huge sums of money from their criminal activity, and the length of the prison sentence Gibney has received today demonstrates the seriousness of his offending. Gibney mistakenly thought that he could get away with conducting his criminal business by using the encrypted mobile platform EncroChat – but he was sadly mistaken.

“My officers worked meticulously to identify who the Encro handles belonged to, to ensure the organised crime group were brought to justice. Thankfully, the final member of the crime group has now been sentenced for his involvement which brings the total sentencing to 66 years."

Neil Keeping, NCA Regional Manager for Spain, said: “Gibney went to great lengths to evade capture, but through intense work by the Spanish National Police and our overseas officers, we located and arrested him on the Costa del Sol before extraditing him to the UK. He was the figurehead of an organised crime group responsible for importing millions of pounds worth of harmful drugs into the UK.

"Dismantling these crime groups is crucial to protect the UK public from the devastating impact drug supply has on our communities. Today’s result should serve as a stark warning to criminals who think they can evade authorities abroad – we will catch you, and you will face justice.”

Don't miss the biggest and breaking stories by signing up to the Echo Daily newsletter here