Stoke-on-Trent KFC used for £100k cocaine drop as major crime gang busted

A Stoke-on-Trent branch of KFC was used to carry out a £100,000 cocaine drop before police brought a major crime gang to justice. The one kilo block of the Class A drug was exchanged at the Meir drive-thru restaurant.

But what the criminals didn't realise was that their movements were being tracked though ANPR, CCTV and phone work. Manchester Crown Court heard that later that day, police raided a home in Cheshire where the cocaine was found in the kitchen of a flat of one of the operation's main players.

After Ryan Ridgeway and Anton Nash were caged in 2020, three more gang members have now been jailed, although one of them has jumped bail and is now on the run.

Greater Manchester Police began their investigation into the organised crime group around January 2020 when they raided the rural home of Ridgeway in Disley in Cheshire. Officers arrested Ridgeway and two accomplices, Paul Cooper and Charles Ebbrell.

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GMP's 'Operation Challenger' team established that Cooper and Ebbrell travelled to a KFC in Meir in Ridgeway’s Audi A3 earlier on the day of the Disley raid. At KFC, they met with Nash who supplied them with the 1kg block.

This deal 'was facilitated' on the phone by a fifth member of the gang, Liam Duggan, who acted as a middleman between Ridgeway, Ebbrell, Cooper and Nash, according to GMP.

Following the deal, Nash returned to Birmingham but Cooper and Ebbrell returned to Ridgeway’s flat, arriving back moments before the police carried out the dramatic raid.

Ridgeway was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine in June 2020. The 36-year-old claimed he knew nothing about the cocaine and that his flat above a Frankies Wine bar on Buxton Old Road in Disley had been hijacked by gangsters in Salford who blamed him for the theft of drugs.

But the dad's fingerprints were found on the carrier bag which contained the cocaine. Six mobile phones were found in the flat, one of them an an Aquaris 'encro' phone frequently used by criminals because they are almost impossible for investigators to analyse.

It had a Dutch sim card. Analysis showed the high-purity cocaine had a wholesale value of up to £35,000 and was worth as much as £100,000 on the streets, his sentencing hearing was told.

The cocaine was exchanged at Meir KFC
The cocaine was exchanged at Meir KFC

Ten days before the police raid in Disley, Ridgeway said he was attacked by three men who slashed his arm with a knife and held a gun to his head.

The same month police raided the Disley flat, police also raided Nash's home in Halesowen, with assistance from West Midlands Police, and found a loaded gun and £378,180 in cash. He was arrested at the property on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs, money laundering and possession of a firearm.

A simultaneous warrant was also executed at an address in Gotham, Nottingham, and Duggan was arrested. Both Nash and Duggan provided no comment interviews when questioned by detectives.

The items uncovered by police -Credit:GMP
The items uncovered by police -Credit:GMP

In June 2020, officers from Stockport Challenger executed a search warrant at Nash’s home address in Halesowen and arrested him suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class A, money laundering and possession of a firearm.

Nash pleaded guilty at Minshull Street Crown Court to all matters and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in March 2023.

Following release from police custody in February 2020, one member of the gang, Cooper, fled the country. Detective Constable McCarthy 'tracked' Cooper across Ireland, Spain and Portugal and eventually located him in Paramaribo, Suriname, South America, according to GMP.

Paul Cooper -Credit:GMP
Paul Cooper -Credit:GMP

With the assistance of the National Crime Agency and Suriname authorities, Cooper was arrested on June 6 2023. He was found to be in possession of cannabis and firearms upon his arrest.

Cooper at first told the authorities he was a Ukrainian refugee called Roman Petrov but police saw through his lies and he was deported back to the UK on December 13 last year when he was charged and remanded into custody.

Now Cooper, Ebbrell and Duggan have all been handed lengthy jail sentences, although Ebbrell wasn't in court and he is being hunted afresh by police. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Ebbrell, 43, of Hopkinson Avenue in Denton, was handed a prison sentence of six years and nine months in his absence.

Charles Ebbrell is on the run -Credit:GMP
Charles Ebbrell is on the run -Credit:GMP

Cooper, 43, of Awburn Road in Hyde, has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years. Duggan, 38, of the Rushes in Nottingham, was jailed for four years and nine months. All three were convicted of possession with intent to supply class A drugs.

After the hearing, Detective Sergeant Leanne Banks, of Stockport’s Challenger team, said: “The sentencing that the three men received at court is satisfying news for the investigation team. As a unit, we have worked tirelessly investigating this group’s involvement in the supply of drugs, not only in Manchester but across the country.

"All of the men in this group had a complete disregard for the law and their illegitimate enterprise was fuelled by their own greed. We hope that the public can see that we remain committed to removing dangerous individuals like Ebbrell, Duggan and Cooper from our streets which will undoubtedly make Greater Manchester a safer place.

"The seriousness of these crimes should not be underestimated, the amount of drugs they were transporting and supplying are substantial. We will always listen to our communities' concerns surrounding drug dealing and need your information and intelligence to help us put dangerous criminals behind bars and any issues that are fed to us can sometimes hugely assist our on-going investigations.”

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