'Zone Lizard' paid for his rivals' cars to be torched for dealing drugs on his turf

Stephen Warner
Stephen Warner -Credit:Merseyside Police

A drug trafficker known as "Zone Lizard" paid for his rivals' cars to be torched in "revenge attacks" after spotting them dealing on his turf.

Stephen Warner "brokered" kilogram deals of cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis over EncroChat and used the encrypted communications platform to recruit arsonists who were paid as little as £350. He later fled to Spain as his activities on his "lemo phone", which netted him thousands of pounds per week, came under scrutiny from the law.

Liverpool Crown Court heard on Friday that the 36-year-old was the user of the handle "ZoneLizard" on the network before it was infiltrated by the French police during 2020. Warner, formerly of Alexandra Road in Waterloo, was linked to this account after using his full name and providing his home address in messages, while he had also used his daughter's birthday as his password.

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Stella Hayden, prosecuting, described how he had a total of 19 contacts saved on his device and was shown to have been in touch with 12 of these associates. Their discussions showed that he had been "involved in trading wholesale quantities" of cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis amounting to 15kg, 5kg and 15kg respectively over a two-month period.

Warner was said to have had a "primary role of a broker" who "liaised between upstream suppliers" and buyers across the UK while earning "commission" of up to £1,000 per kilo. His messages also detailed how he had "run his own graft phone operation", which he referred to as his "lemo" phone and earned him around £5,000 per week.

The dad entered negotiations to sell this "lucrative" phone on one occasion in exchange for the wiping of a £20,000 debt plus payment of £5,000 per week for 14 weeks. Warner meanwhile referenced his arrest on January 18 2020, when the car he was driving was stopped by the police and his passenger, 38-year-old Brady Tierney, was caught in possession of 28 wraps of cocaine.

The defendant, who himself was found to be carrying £580 cash, said of this during an exchange in May the same year: "He got nicked with 28 bits and the work phone. Brady says he'll take the rap for it and say I didn't know he had drugs on him."

Warner's flat was also raided by Merseyside Police on February 16 2021. On this occasion, officers recovered class A drugs worth up to £26,195, 2kg of cannabis with a value of as much as £18,276, £9,745 in cash and just over 700g of benzocaine - a substance commonly used as a cutting agent.

Tierney, of Oxton Road in Walton, subsequently received a 22-month imprisonment suspended for 18 months after pleading guilty to drug offences. Warner had been due to stand trial accused of possession of cocaine with intent to supply in relation to the stop and search, but fled the country and ultimately had to be extradited back to the UK from Spain in October last year in order to face justice.

Ms Hayden also outlined a series of messages in which he told the user "BleakMoth" that he wanted a car "blazing". He provided an address on Sherwan Road in Anfield, stated this his target drove a dark grey Seat Leon and gave the registration plate as part of this plot.

Warner agreed a fee of £350, saying that he would "give him an extra 100" if the arsonist "gets me some pictures and videos" of the fire. He added: "Keep seeing him up by mine serving people, most of them are my old punters."

The court heard that the victim, Lee McStein, was then at home at around 4.15am on June 4 2020 when he discovered that his car was on fire outside. He also spotted a man wearing dark clothing and with his face covered cycling away from his property carrying a green petrol can.

Mr McStein was ultimately able to extinguish the fire with a garden hose. However, this was "not the only instance in which the defendant sought retribution or retaliation in order to protect or pursue his business interests".

Warner also told Bleak Moth that he had "another two or three cars for him to do as well by the Rocket pub" and said: "Lad I'm looking on getting Adam's cars burnt. Do you know anyone who will be game?"

Ms Hayden added: "These appear to be revenge attacks associated with the defendant's drug supply business."

Warner has a total of 10 previous convictions for 16 offences. His criminal record shows an entry for being concerned in the supply of drugs in 2008, while he received a suspended sentence order in May 2020 for battery and causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

Dominic Thomas, defending, told the court: "The defendant knows he will receive a significant sentence for his wrongdoing. It is plain that he did not contest his extradition proceedings.

"He will only get the benefit of his period in Spain if your honour discounts it from his sentence. Your honour will know that personal mitigation in large scale drugs supply criminality will only go so far.

"We simply ask your honour, consistent with your obligation, to show what mercy your honour is able to. Your honour will have seen the efforts that he has made in custody while awaiting sentence."

Warner, who appeared via video link to HMP Altcourse, admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis and conspiracy to commit arson. Judge Ian Harris had been due to pass sentence upon him yesterday afternoon.

However, the hearing had to be adjourned due to a lack of court time. Warner will now learn his fate on June 12 this year.

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