Five men involved in a drugs factory capable of churning out 130,000 pills dubbed the ‘blue plague’ have been jailed.
Kyle Byrne, 29, George Stewart, 32, and John MacLeod, 23, admitted being involved in the supplying of Etizolam at a flat in Dalry, North Ayrshire, between February 1 and March 26.
Co-accused Lee MacLeod, 26, admitted being concerned in the supply of the drug on March 26 and Paul Gaughan, 30, on March 23.
At the High Court in Glasgow, judge Lady Scott told all five: “You have all pled guilty to being involved in the supply of Etizolam – street diazepam – which is much more potent than diazepam. This was a large-scale manufacturing and distributing operation.”
Lady Scott sentenced Byrne, Stewart and John McLeod to five years and four months each, Lee McLeod was jailed for two years, and Gaughan to 12 months.
The High Court in Glasgow heard that ringleader Byrne initially was running the operation from Barlinnie Prison until his release at the end of February.
He made 44 phone calls to John MacLeod and 16 to Stewart between February 2 and 27.
Stewart also sent texts and in one boasted: “This is how the big boys do it.”
Prosecutor Michael Meehan QC said: “Within a number of calls they talked about working with motor vehicles as code for the production of drugs using a pill press.
“In the calls there were references to associates, cash amounts, weight, the quality of the pills, the press jamming and cleaning a clogged-up pill press.”
The court heard that Stewart sent on Whatsapp two images – one of him holding a very large pile of cash and the second showing a man lying on a floor surrounded by piles on cash.
On March 16 he sent an image of the pill press in operation to someone called Shelby with the message: “This is what a do lol no night clubs or that am way the same ppl every day so am all goodxxxx.
Mr Meehan said: “This was in response to concerns expressed around Covid 19.”
The court heard that 253,399 tablets were seized, as well as powder capable of making a further 178,769 pills.
The maximum street value was £216,084. Police experts said that the pill machine in Dalry was capable of making approximately 130,000 tablets a day with a maximum street value each day of £65,000.
Mr Meehan added: “The tablets were manufactured in a pill processing factory set up in the kitchen and dinning room of a first floor flat by Byrne, Stewart and John MacLeod.
“They also – between March 11 and 26 – used a self storage unit in Linwood to store mixing agents and another pill machine.
“The other two accused were involved in operating the pill machine in Dalry, each on one day.”
Mr Meehan told the court that the machine in Dalry, which would cost around £6000 to buy, could produce approximately 10,000 tablets an hour.
Police received a tip-off on March 26 that drugs were being made in the flat in Dalry and raided the premises.
Stewart and Lee MacLeod were inside when police arrived and Byrne and John MacLeod turned up during the search. The clothes of all four were covered in white powder and when forensically analysed were found to contain Etizolam.
Messages from Stewart’s phone led to the arrest of Gaughan.
Defence QC Tony Graham, representing Byrne, said: “This was an amateurish operation and Mr Byrne was a management operative rather than soneone further up the chain.”
Defence counsel Euan Dow, represting John McLeod said: “He became involved in this because he needed money”.