A GANG of eight who flooded the streets of Chester city centre with class A drugs have been sentenced.

The eight men, who appeared at Chester Crown Court on Monday and Tuesday, September 21 and 22, had all previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell crack cocaine and heroin.

The eight sentenced were:

  • Ryan Wallace (23 years old) of Whitchurch Road, Chester – four previous convictions for six offences, including one for possession of cannabis. Jailed for seven years.
  • Alex Freeman (21) of Stanley Park Drive, Saltney – one previous conviction; was jailed in April 2020 for possession with intent to supply cocaine and heroin in Flintshire in March 2020. Jailed for six years, to run concurrently with his existing prison sentence.
  • Bradley Wong (21) of Blacon Point Road – one previous conviction for drug-driving in 2018. Jailed for five years.
  • Ashley White (28) of Canalside, Chester – 14 previous convictions for 25 offences, including possession of a class B drug in October 2018. Jailed for five years.
  • Frederick Pendleton (44) of West Street, Chester – 14 convictions for 37 previous offences. Had been released from prison in January 2020 after serving prison sentence for possession with intent to supply class A and class B drugs, and fraud, only to get involved in the drugs conspiracy in February. Jailed for 40 months.
  • Joseph Birthwright (21) Parkfield Road, Broughton. No previous convictions or cautions. Jailed for two years.
  • Fergus Rideal (21) of Long Lane, Saughall – one conviction for drug-driving, committed after the conspiracy offence in June 2020. Handed 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. Must complete 150 hours unpaid work, complete 20 days of a rehabilitation activity requirement and placed on a four-month, 7pm-6am curfew.
  • James McLeod (30) of Hillside Road, Chester – 17 previous for 42 offences, including possession of cannabis in 2005. Handed 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. Must complete 200 hours unpaid work, complete 35 days of a rehabilitation activity requirement and a Thinking Skills programme.

Prosecuting, Philip Clemo said evidence showed the drug gang, known as 'the Freeman group', or 'Freemo group', was operating between September 30, 2019 and June 29, 2020, although not all the defendants were involved throughout the whole of that time.

They used one of three 'graft phones' during that time, each of which would be used to send out 'flare messages' to initiate drug dealing arrangements, with drug deals conducted in places such as the bandstand by The Groves, in the city centre, and in side streets.

The prosecution estimated an average of 100 deals of 0.1g of class A drugs was done per day, over many months.

The court heard Freeman had set up the Chester group, with Wallace taking over after Freeman was arrested in October in Queens Avenue. Freeman would later get involved in a "side project" class A drugs operation in Flintshire before being arrested in Connah's Quay.

Wong was seen as a "trusted lieutenant", while White, Birthright and Pendleton would be dealing drugs on the streets.

McLeod had sent out flare messages on a limited number of days, while Rideal was a driver who had driven other gang members to Liverpool and back, in what the court heard was to get drug supplies.

Freeman and Wallace had played "leading roles" in the gang, although it was accepted there were people higher up the drugs chain in Liverpool.

On occasion, White would be chased up by Wallace for money owed, and White was seen as an "unreliable employee", who was ultimately arrested three times during the operation, in Bridge Street, Raymond Street and at the Crowne Plaza.

His phone was searched and Wallace's phone number was down as 'BigFella2'.

Daniel Harman, defending Wallace, said the defendant was due to become a father very shortly, and accepted he would not be able to see his newborn child for some time.

He had had a close relationship with his mother, who had sadly passed away in 2018.

Adam Antoszkiw, defending Freeman, said Freeman was "ignorant of the repercussions of the impact of the drugs involved", and had been in custody through the worst of the pandemic, when prisoners are kept in their cells for 23+ hours a day.

He had been "seduced by easy financial gain".

Peter Barnett, defending, Wong, said Wong was only 20 at the time of the offending and was "clearly immature".

His parents had been unwell, with both taken to hospital recently.

He had been working in Tattenhall but, as a result of the drug-driving conviction, lost his job and his car, which left him in debts totalling £12,000.

Jeremy Rawson, defending White, said White, born in Leigh, Wigan, had been a vulnerable individual who had been staying at a hostel before being made homeless as he could not afford to stay there.

He had been part of the Hamilton House squatters group, which Honorary Recorder of Chester Judge Steven Everett said there were a number of people supplying Spice and drugs users there.

Simon Mills, defending Pendleton, said the defendant had been "wedded" to heroin since 1996 and had been severely stabbed a few years ago, receiving nerve damage and post-traumatic stresses.

In custody, Pendleton had been taking steps to reduce his methadone intake.

David Morton, defending Birthwright, said the defendant was "immature" and had been hard-working, even since his arrest last October, looking to provide for his family.

He had been working for Asda and had been for an interview to go to the Army.

Jo Maxwell, defending Rideal, said the defendant had been long-time friends with Wallace and was offered the chance to make quick money.

He had acted "out of naivety and misguided loyalty to Ryan Wallace", and was of good character at the time of the offence.

Mark Le Brocq, defending McLeod, said the defendant had got into the situation because of financial difficulties after losing his job.

He had got back into full-time employment and had a partner and five children to support, and had a "very positive" pre-sentence report.

Judge Everett, sentencing, told each of the eight defendants about the "evils" of cocaine and heroin.

He said such drugs were the "scourges of society" and ruined the lives of those who took them and the communities where drug deals took place.

Judge Everett said of heroin addicts: "I often refer to them as walking skeletons – all they do is think about their next fix. They don't think about food, or their lifestyle, and they beg, borrow and steal, even prostitute themselves – men and women – just to get their fix."

Of cocaine, Judge Everett said: "A so-called party drug, it's a killer drug. The effect can be seen on users as their noses literally cave in – goodness knows what it's doing to the rest of their body."

The judge also expressed sadness at how the gang – mostly young men in their early 20s – had set up a gang "out of the blue", with some defendants in the gang in it for "selfish" financial reasons.

Leader Freeman had also displayed "incredible arrogance" to get caught in a second class A drugs operation.

Speaking after the eight were sentenced, Detective Sergeant Stuart Needham, of Chester Local Policing Unit, said: “These men were part of a fully established criminal network who had been operating drugs in the city for a while.

“The gang had a large customer base with the majority addicted to crack cocaine and heroin. They supplied them with the drugs with the sole purpose of making a substantial profit.

“In order to get to the root of this problem and target those who were at the top of the tree we had to undertake a lengthy and covert operation to ensure we disrupted the supply of the drugs. 

“We are grateful to the public who came forward to provide us with information as it was crucial to the investigation and I want to encourage them to keep showing their support and coming forward to report it.”

David Keane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, said: “This is great news for those living in the community who have no doubt been impacted by the actions of the men involved in this conspiracy. 

“Preventing and protecting Chester from serious and organised crime is a priority in my Police and Crime Plan and I am once again really proud of the detectives who have dismantled another organised crime group.

“I want to add that the public have played a part in providing police with important information which hugely supported this outcome.”

  • If you believe drug activity is taking place in your community please report it to police either anonymously through Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111 or Cheshire Police on 101.