Leader of gang that shipped heroin and cocaine to and from Scotland caught

At least ten kilos of heroin and seven kilos of cocaine were moved between Merseyside and Motherwell.

Leader of EncroChat crime gang that shipped heroin and cocaine to and from Scotland caught NCA

A senior leader of an organised crime group which trafficked cocaine and heroin in and out of Scotland has been convicted after fleeing to Portugal.

Stephen Earle was arrested by the fugitive team of the Polícia Judiciária, the national criminal investigation police agency of Portugal.

The 52-year-old was taken into custody in Faro in January this year at the request of the National Crime Agency (NCA), and returned to the UK on March 18.

The criminal gang he helped lead set up an amphetamine lab in Scotland, shipped at least ten kilos of heroin into Scotland via Motherwell, and smuggled seven kilos of cocaine across the border in the opposite direction.

Earle, from Liverpool, had fled abroad in July 2020, and remained in Portugal to avoid capture after NCA officers apprehended fellow gang members in March 2021.

Earle was seen at Manchester Airport T3 departures on March 13, 2020NCA

Earle, who worked closely with his now jailed 50-year-old cousin Terence Earle, using encrypted communications platform EncroChat to run the criminal enterprise, with the help of subordinates Stanley Feerick, 70, and Stephen King, 50.

Terence Earle was jailed for 16-and-a-half years in April last year, while both Feerick and King have also been sentenced for their part in the class A operation and the creation of an amphetamine lab in Scotland.

Terence and Stephen used the EncroChat handles “ThickBoar” and “Octo-hand” respectively, and discussed prices for buying and selling the drugs as well as the logistics of trafficking.

Heroin found in Feerick's lorryNCA

The pair shipped at least ten kilos of heroin and seven kilos of cocaine, with the former moved from Merseyside to Motherwell and the latter in the opposite direction.

Stephen Earle pleaded guilty to four drugs supply charges at Liverpool Crown Court on April 16 and will be sentenced at the same court on June 14 this year.

The NCA’s investigation formed part of Operation Venetic, the UK NCA-led law enforcement response to the takedown of the EncroChat service in July 2020.

Stephen Earle (L) and Terence Earle outside Terence's home address in April 2020NCA

NCA branch commander Charles Lee said: “Today’s guilty plea shows that there is no hiding place for criminals who seek to avoid arrest by living abroad.

“The NCA has the international reach to find you and make you pay for your crimes.

“Stephen Earle was an integral part of this dangerous criminal organisation, which posed a serious threat to communities across Scotland and Merseyside.

“The drugs they trafficked would have fuelled violence and exploitation in these areas, so bringing this criminal group to justice has helped protect the public.”

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