THE ringleader of a class A drugs gang which flooded Chester and Ellesmere Port with up to £2.3 million of crack cocaine and heroin has been jailed for 14 and a half years.

Mark Cavanagh, 30, of Aldgate, Ellesmere Port, headed up an established large crime gang which had networks of dealers in Lache, Chester and Ellesmere Port, making trips to Wallasey, Manchester, Bradford and Scotland to obtain drugs supplies, Chester Crown Court heard on Monday, September 28.

Prosecuting, Simon Parry said Cavanagh used state-of-the-art encrypted telephone technology, which Cheshire police was able to obtain the data for thanks to a recent international law enforcement team cracking the code and harvesting the data.

Such encrypted phones, the court heard, can cost £1,325 and up to £3,000 a year to run.

It was on these encrypted messages that Cavanagh contacted drugs suppliers, on the username 'LeadFluffy', and would buy kilogrammes of drugs for tens of thousands of pounds a time.

Safe houses were also used, including two in Ellesmere Port; one in Newnham Drive and one in Plemston Court.

Police estimated that 'the Cavanagh gang', which was already established when they started using undercover officers to purchase test drugs, had two lines of operation: the Dell Line in Lache, which involved between 2.9kg-5.8kg of crack cocaine and heroin, and the Dark Line in Ellesmere Port, which involved between 21.2kg and 42.5kg of the class A drugs.

Police valued the total drugs operation in Lache as between £278k-556k, and Ellesmere Port as between £903,500-£1.8m, between September 2019 and June 2020.

Cavanagh, who had four previous convictions for seven offences, including a three-year jail term in 2017 for offering to supply cocaine and heroin, had also pleaded guilty to an offence of dangerous driving in April.

That was when he was driving a Jaguar and tried, with the assistance of people driving an Audi car, to force an unmarked police car off the road during the daytime.

The police officer driver said he was fearful for his and his colleague's safety as he had to go through red lights and drive at speed to escape his pursuers.

Cavanagh was jailed along with two other members of the drugs gang, Karl Evans and Joshua Burns, both of Ellesmere Port and described as 'trusted lieutenants' in the gang, using a graft phone, having access to drugs and cash and getting involved in street dealing.

Evans, 20, of Hillside Drive, had one conviction for six offences, which involved taking his father's Mercedes without permission last September, going through a red light by Overpool Road and narrowly avoiding a collision with police, while driving with no insurance or licence.

The following day he was riding an off-road bike on waste ground and was told to stop by a police officer, but Evans rode straight at him and the officer avoided contact.

Burns, 24, of Flint Court, was arrested on November 22 in a black Audi A4 in Ellesmere Port, having been spotted drug dealing.

He had 100g of class A drugs in his car and thousands of pounds in cash.

He had three convictions for four offences, but this included a three-year prison sentence for possession with intent to supply cocaine and cannabis in 2017.

Neil Gunn, defending Cavanagh, said two letters had been written to the court, one from Cavanagh and one from his partner, who was in the public gallery.

The partner said Cavanagh's sentencing would have a big impact on the family, including their 12-week-old baby, while Cavanagh said he was prepared to accept full responsibility for what he had done and was prepared to turn his life around.

Mr Gunn added the dangerous driving had occurred as Cavanagh had believed the people in the unmarked police car were other drug dealers, not police officers, and thankfully due to the coronavirus lockdown at the time, traffic was light on the roads and no damage or injury was caused.

Brian Treadwell, defending Evans, said the defendant played a significant role but not a leading one, as he just had control of one of the graft phones for three days a week.

For the off-road bike offence, Evans had been trying to get away from the police.

Chris Hunt, defending Burns, said the defendant had a lack of parental guidance after his father passed away when Burns was 15.

He had been involved in the operation for 17 days in November prior to his arrest, significantly less time than other defendants.

He hoped to "sort himself out and get back on the straight and narrow", Mr Hunt added.

Honorary Recorder of Chester Judge Steven Everett had remarked he could not remember a drugs case as serious this in Chester and Ellesmere Port, during his time as a judge.

He added the group was clearly well established as there were no 'flare messages' going out to attract new customers from the graft phones, indicating there were already a sufficient number of contacts for deals to be done.

He said: "What is truly astonishing is the unchallenged evidence that during those eight or nine months there was closing in on 25kg – at least – of drugs on the streets of Chester and Ellesmere Port.

He explained the evils of heroin and cocaine, the former which turned people into "walking skeletons" who do "terrible things" to get their next fix, and the latter being "a party drug" which causes people's noses to cave in. "Goodness only knows what it does to the rest of their body," he said.

He added the drugs caused "anguish, trauma and misery", affecting "literally thousands" of people in the community.

Cavanagh had "behaved like a gangster", telling one person who owed money to pay up or "things would get messy", while the dangerous driving was in the belief that another drug dealer was going on to his territory.

Cavanagh was jailed for 14 years and six months, and will serve a three-year driving ban upon his release.

Evans was handed 66 months detention, plus a two-year driving ban upon his release. Both Cavanagh and Evans must pass an extended retest to get their driving licence.

Burns was jailed for 50 months.

Due to court social distancing, only a limited number of defendants can be sentenced at the same time.

More members of the drugs gang, who were caught as part of police Operation Olympia, will be sentenced on Tuesday and Wednesday.