A TAXI driver helped import kilogrammes of crack cocaine and heroin into Chester and Ellesmere Port.

Paul Cusato, 31, of Parklands Gardens, Ellesmere Port, was a "trusted courier" in the large Chester and Ellesmere Port drugs gang led by Mark Cavanagh, who was jailed last month.

At Chester Crown Court on Monday, October 19, Cusato was sentenced along with fellow drug gang member Derek Silva, of Medlar Close, Chester, who the court heard was a street dealer in Lache.

Both had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin.

Honorary Recorder of Chester Judge Steven Everett sentenced Cusato to five-and-a-half years in prison, and Silva to four-and-a-half-years in prison.

Prosecuting, Simon Parry said there were two main parts to the large drugs operation, split between the Dell Line in Lache, and the Dark Line in Ellesmere Port.

Cusato, a taxi driver employed by a Chester taxi company, made a number of trips to Wallasey, Liverpool and Manchester between October 2019 and February 2020 to collect bags of what were believed to be the class A drugs, before dropping them off at safe houses in Ellesmere Port to be distributed to dealers including Silva.

The court heard that, as a taxi driver, he would be less likely to attract suspicion.

While it could not be precisely calculated how many drugs Cusato had imported to Chester and Ellesmere Port, it was ruled he had transported at least 5kg.

He had four previous convictions for four offences, none of them for drug-related offences.

Silva, 29, was responsible for dealing at least a kilogramme of class A drugs between October 2019 and February 2020, and had supplied wraps on more than one occasion to undercover police officers.

On October 23, Silva was driving when his vehicle was stopped by police on his return to Chester. He initially came to a halt but then drove off.

His car hit a tree and he ran away from the scene, before later being arrested.

Inside the car was a graft phone used to send out flare messages and a can marked 'pepper spray'.

One of Silva's contacts used to meet undercover officers was described as a 'vulnerable victim' of the operation. Police visited that contact's house on January 17 in Lache and found the house almost uninhabitable, with blood and human excrement found in the house.

Silva would on other occasions supply or contact the undercover officers himself.

Silva had 22 previous convictions for 36 offences, including robbery in 2013, for which he received a 30-month prison sentence.

He also had convictions for four drug-related offences, all for possession of cannabis or synthetic cannabis.

Mark Connor, defending Cusato, said there were a number of references submitted, including a heartfelt letter from Cusato himself.

Cusato had a good family background but found himself in financial difficulty and was "offered financial reward without thinking of the consequences" and tried to justify what he was doing to himself.

The offending came as a "massive shock" to his family and meant he would be away from his two children.

He had applied to be enrolled on an Open University degree in art, history and languages.

Michael Scholes, defending Silva, said there had been a psychiatric report which detailed Silva's background.

He said: "To say he has had a dreadful start in life would be an understatement," adding while this did not excuse the offending, it was a factor in mitigation.

Silva had no previous record for this type of offending.

Judge Everett said: "These were terrible offences. I have had to deal with cases like this week in, week out.

"These evil drugs are a blight on our society."

Addressing Cusato, he said: "One thing that has come across is that you had a good upbringing. You had advantages that Derek Silva did not.

"What you did was wrong on so many levels.

"You got yourself into this but there is a really low risk of reoffending."

Addressing Silva, he said: "You realise how much misery [these drugs] have dished out to members of the public.

"There were factors outside your control, truly tragic times you have had through nobody's fault.

"You could still do something with your life."