Moment police made biggest-ever UK drugs seizure to intercept £20m of cocaine on M6 is revealed as gang including ex-UFC cage fighting enforcer are jailed for total of 60 years
- Huge nationwide operation masterminded by Alan and John Tobin of Liverpool
- The brothers were backed up by former martial arts star Robbie Broughton
- Anthony and Leon Cullen and Jamie Oldroyd’s firm were among their customers
- The Tobins ordered the transport of a stash of drugs from Kent to Warrington
- But police intercepted the van, carrying 186kg of up to 90 per cent pure cocaine
This is the moment police made the UK’s biggest-ever drugs seizure as they intercepted £20m of cocaine on the motorway.
Dramatic police helicopter footage shows four unmarked vehicles surrounding a van and another car on the M6 near Knutsford, Cheshire, before officers drag out the suspects out and arrest them in the middle of the busy carriageway.
The bust came as part of an investigation into an organised crime group, which included an ex-UFC cage fighting enforcer nicknamed ‘The Bear’, and supplied vast amounts of Class A drugs from Merseyside to gangs across Britain.
Liverpool brothers Alan and John Tobin masterminded the operation, and were backed up by former martial arts star Robbie Broughton, who enforced debts and collected payments from notorious gang leaders.
Anthony and Leon Cullen, who headed a heavily armed drug gang, and a firm bossed by Jamie Oldroyd, both based in Warrington, Cheshire, were among their regular customers.
Broughton, a 6ft 2in, 18st heavyweight, moved an estimated £30m of cash and used an encryped EncroChat phone with the handle ‘NovaBear’ to carry out his work, Liverpool Crown Court was told.
Judge Garrett Byrne said the married father-of-two was the ‘muscle’ for the gang and added: ‘I’ve no doubt you have a keen sense of letting your family down.’
Nicola Daley, prosecuting, said the Tobins ran a ‘criminally sophisticated, highly profitable and well-organised business’ for more than four years, between 2016 and 2020.
The criminal gang was ultimately jailed for a total of some 60 years.
Liverpool brothers Alan (left) and John Tobin (right) masterminded the operation and had minions trading in drugs but eventually had to become more hands-on
Robbie Broughton, a 6ft 2in, 18st heavyweight, moved an estimated £30m of cash and used an encryped EncroChat phone with the handle ‘NovaBear’ to carry out his work, Liverpool Crown Court was told
Alan, 52, of Regency Park, Widnes, and John, 40, formerly of Manor Road, Prescot, had minions trading primarily in cocaine, but also in heroin, cannabis, and ketamine.
But the brothers had to become more hands-on after instructing Jamie Simpson to transport a £20m stash of cocaine from Kent to Warrington for them.
Detectives made the largest ever land seizure of cocaine in the UK when they intercepted the van, which was carrying 186kg of up to 90 per cent pure cocaine under floorboards and in a specially adapted ‘hide’ on August 2, 2018.
Astonishing police helicopter footage showed the moment officers stopped the blue van near Knutsford, Cheshire.
John Tobin’s DNA was later found deposited on the bubble wrap of one of the drug blocks he had earlier watched being placed into boxes during the packing process.
Ms Daley said enquiries revealed just five days earlier, on July 28, John Tobin had travelled from Kent to Brussels via Eurostar, and while he couldn’t be directly linked to the importation, he had been ‘very close to the original source’.
The Tobins also sold drugs to other gangs in London, north Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Manchester, the north-east, and Scotland, using couriers like Liverpool father Anwar Rahim.
The brothers commanded the criminal enterprise but used Broughton, as well as fellow criminals Simon Leech, and Brian McQuillan to help with the day-to-day running of their business.
Ms Daley said Broughton didn’t have direct contact with drugs, but was used to ‘enforce unpaid debts’ and involved in moving cash, which she said given the amounts of drugs involved could be around £30m in total.
He was a close associate of the Tobins, but also in regular phone contact with the Cullen brothers, and offered to move money for other gangs, charging 7.5 per cent commission.
A three-pronged operation was launched into Tobin’s customers, as Operations Bullfight, Samurai and Dreadnought, targeted the Cullens, Oldroyd, and drug boss Lee Stoba.
Undercover officers watched John Tobin meet with Anthony Cullen, Broughton and Robert Bibby – an associate of the Cullens – at a countryside cafe.
Alan Tobin was also seen meeting with Oldroyd and Simpson at a cafe in Warrington to discuss trading with gangs in Liverpool and beyond.
Ms Daley said Broughton continued to work for the Tobins until their arrest in 2020, when the brothers were struggling with ‘large debts’, which ‘may not be a surprise given that even in 2018 they had lost 186kg of drugs’.
Dramatic police helicopter footage shows four unmarked vehicles surrounding a van and another car on the M6 near Knutsford, Cheshire, before officers drag out the suspects out and arrest them in the middle of the busy carriageway
The brothers were backed up by former martial arts star Robbie ‘The Bear’ Broughton, who enforced debts and collected payments from notorious gang leaders
Police carried out the UK’s biggest-ever drugs seizure as they intercepted £20m of cocaine from a van on the motorway
She said John Tobin was ‘put under some pressure’ to pay people significant amounts – possibly unpaid wages – and to sell personal belongings to do so.
Leech was a ‘conduit’ between the Tobins and the Cullens and from his garage provided and serviced vehicles for the Tobins over a 10-month period, from 2016 to 2017.
McQuillan was a courier and in a six-week period in March and April 2018 he transported around £4m in cash over 21 trips.
Some of the Tobins’ trade was revealed in the EncroChat hack as part of Operation Venetic.
This involved Alan, aka ‘CapeRocket’, and John, aka ‘SlightDrake’, holding discussions between March and May 2020 about 73kg of heroin, 83kg of cocaine, 57kg of ketamine and 78kg of cannabis.
The drug ring was taken down on September 9 last year when police raided the gang’s homes to arrest those involved.
Broughton, 38, of Breccia Gardens, St Helens, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine.
The court heard he has five convictions for nine offences, including possessing a bladed article in 2007 and battery in 2009.
Anthony Barraclough, defending Broughton, who fought out of the legendary Wolfslair MMA Academy in Widnes, Cheshire, said he should be sentenced as a ‘money launderer’ within a drug plot given his role.
Mr Barraclough said: ‘There is no evidence of him grabbing anybody or committing any acts of violence. The fact is Robbie ‘The Bear’ is an enormous guy. If he’s in the background, he becomes an enforcer.
‘He’s never used violence since a long time ago and that was battery. There is a great deal of difference between what he could do – there is no GBH and so on.’
Mr Barraclough said Broughton was friends with the Tobins for 20 years through gyms he worked and trained at.
Mr Barraclough said: ‘A lot of people if they’re not as big as him, if they’re not as fit as him, they like to associate with Robbie ‘The Bear’.
‘They like to watch him on YouTube, in his fights in various parts of the world and say: ‘I train with him’ etc.’
John Tobin’s DNA was later found deposited on the bubble wrap of one of the drug blocks he had earlier watched being placed into boxes during the packing process
The Tobins also sold drugs to other gangs in London, north Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Manchester, the north-east, and Scotland, using couriers like Liverpool father Anwar Rahim
Mr Barraclough said much of the phone contact between Broughton and others was ‘social’, but ‘he accepts there came a stage when he wasn’t just big Robbie ‘The Bear’ with a big heart as all these character references, but he became Robbie the big soft idiot because he allowed himself to get involved with these people.
‘He was not in the true sense part of the organised crime gang he was being used by them, sometimes he feels without his knowledge.’
Mr Barraclough added that the MMA fighter was ‘a good man, a good father, a good husband and a good friend’ to many people.
However, Mr Barraclough said: ‘I’m afraid, apart from being a good man he’s a fool and an idiot, because he went and allowed himself to be dragged into this, possibly for the idea of some financial gain, but now is going to pay for it.
‘He was working every hour available in effect through the night as a doorman. He wasn’t even every day with these people. He was used when he was needed.’
But Judge Byrne rejected the suggestion Broughton should be sentenced as a money launderer within a drugs plot and said it was ‘entirely artificial’.
Judge Byrne said: ‘His role is to be more properly characterised as an enforcer – he was the muscle – he collected debts paid and couriered large amounts of money around.’
Judge Byrne said character references spoke ‘very highly’ of Broughton and about his ‘qualities as a loving, caring family man and friend’, who ‘goes out of his way to help people’ and whose ‘loving wife and two children’ would miss him while he is in prison.
Jailing Broughton for eight-and-a-half years, Judge Byrne said: ‘I’ve no doubt you have a keen sense of letting your family down and I hope when you’re released you have their best interests uppermost in your mind.’
The judge added that Broughton had medical conditions and ‘other difficulties’, stating: ‘It does remain a possibility that you were to some extent at least taken advantage of.’
The Tobins, who both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and ketamine, both have a handful of previous convictions, but none involving drug trafficking.
Judge Byrne told the siblings: ‘It was a business on a national scale which netted you vast sums of money, which fuelled your lavish lifestyles.
‘The money was couriered to various locations and ultimately ended up in Canary Wharf in London, when it was put through various shell companies and professionally laundered.’
He jailed Alan Tobin for 20 years and John Tobin for 19 years and eight months.
Astonishing police helicopter footage showed the moment officers stopped the blue van near Knutsford, Cheshire and made arrests
The brothers commanded the criminal enterprise but used Broughton, as well as fellow criminals Simon Leech (left), and Brian McQuillan (right) to help with the day-to-day running of their business
Leech, 29, of Brindley Avenue, Latchford, Warrington, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, has eight previous convictions for 15 offences, including ‘street dealing’ of cocaine to an undercover police officer in 2010. He was jailed for eight years.
McQuillan, 51, of Buttermarket Street, Warrington, who pleaded guilty to money laundering, had one conviction for criminal damage in 1988. He was jailed for six years and four months.
Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Inspector Mike Evans, from Cheshire Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: ‘Taking down the mainstream supplier of drugs to three big organised crime groups operating in Warrington was the final piece of the jigsaw.
‘The brothers sat at the very top of the chain. They were provided with greater protection to prevent them from being identified as leaders of the organised crime group.
‘At first they sat back and reaped the rewards of their criminality by displaying a lavish lifestyle while employing Broughton, Leech and McQuillan to run the business.
‘For a while their criminal enterprise was seen to be getting bigger and bigger until we began running a number of operations on the gangs they were supplying drugs to.
‘Once we started seizing large quantities of drugs and cash, problems arose, and the Tobins soon began to surface, as huge debts were owed.
The colossal seizure of 186kg of cocaine saw their reputation ruined.
‘The investigation team has worked relentlessly to collate evidence that shows the brothers’ involvement in these conspiracies over a period of up to nine years. Their hard work and determination has paid dividends and resulted in five guilty pleas and justice finally catching up with them all.’
David Keane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, added: ‘This an enormous achievement in Cheshire’s fight against those involved in serious and organised crime.
‘The sheer hard work, determination and successful results over many years to get to this point is commendable and testament to how hard officers work to protect the communities they serve.’
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