20/06/2017 20:00 BST | Updated 21/06/2017 02:03 BST

Jail Terms For Gang Members In £118m Drug-Smuggling Plot

Members of a criminal gang have been jailed for their part in a complex £118 million drug-smuggling conspiracy.

The scheme's mastermind Daniel Taylor was jailed for 18 years in 2016 after being convicted of importing 2.7 tons of cocaine cutting agent, benzocaine, into the UK, said police.

The full details of 44-year-old Taylor's criminal enterprise can now be reported after the last gang member was jailed at Northampton Crown Court on Monday.

The huge scale of the illegal importing operation began to be uncovered in 2014, when the Border Force stopped a 300kg (661 lbs) shipment of benzocaine from China, destined for a UK firm Taylor had set up.

Between 2011 and 2014, investigators found he had placed several large orders for the cutting agent, used to bulk out cocaine.

Taylor, of St Andrews Lane, Kettering, was caught after a painstaking joint investigation by Northamptonshire Police, the National Crime Agency and other forces.

He denied wrongdoing, in court claiming he sold on the benzocaine to co-accused Alexander Shennan believing it would be used to manufacture so-called legal highs.

Taylor was sentenced last year, after his conviction following a trial on nine counts of the production and supply of class A, B and C drugs.

Shennan, 65, of Roxton, Bedfordshire, was found guilty after trial of four counts relating to the production and supply of drugs, and jailed for 19 years at a hearing in October last year.

Taylor's wife, Jo-Ann Taylor, admitted money-laundering and was handed a suspended 16 month term in prison.

Another man, James Lewis, admitted conspiracy to supply class C drugs and was jailed for two years.

Investigators linked Lewis, 35, of Portland Road, Rushden, Northamptonshire, to Taylor, through the men's connections in supplying of anabolic steroids.

George Charalambous, also 35, of Alexander Park Road, Muswell Hill, London, was convicted of conspiracy to supply class C drugs in April, and later jailed for two years.

The final gang member to be put behind bars, 35-year-old Andreas Leonidou, of Stapleton Hall Road, Crouch End, London, had also admitted supplying class C contraband before trial.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday.

Detective Constable Scott Allan, who led the investigation, said: "The defendants in this case used the guise of legitimate companies to purchase, manufacture and sell controlled drugs, as well as cutting agents and precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of cocaine, methamphetamine and anabolic steroids, many of the items purchased where imported in from China.

"The criminal enterprise had been on-going since early 2011, and had it not been for intervention initially from the NCA and Border Force and subsequent diligent and dedicated police work by the organised crime team, I have no doubt their activity would have continued and the true enormity of the scale of drug activity would not have come to light."