A SIXTH member of a crime gang which trafficked more than £1million-worth of cocaine into Devon, Cornwall and Bristol has been jailed for eight years.

Michael Williams had stashed half-a-kilogram of the drug and nearly £160,000 in cash in a cupboard under the stairs when he was arrested in November 2019.

Another key player in the organised outfit was caught delivering 3kg of the Class-A drug – worth £250,000 – to the 59-year-old’s Bristol home when officers swooped on them.

Williams, of Padstow Road, was found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine following a trial in October 2021 and was sentenced at Exeter Crown Court today (Friday).

Five other members of the gang were jailed for a combined total of 40 years and 11 months for the same offence in January.

The set-up saw brothers-in-law Adi Lleshi and Mark Vasija, from Essex, move cocaine to Devon, Cornwall and Bristol.

They supplied Williams in Bristol; John Minchinton in Torbay; Steven Evans in Penzance; and Tyler Harrison in Plymouth, who all shifted the drugs on for sale.

The convictions are the result of a large-scale investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Branch, aided by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit.

Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Ben Davies said: ‘Today sees the last defendant sentenced in this complex and sophisticated case.

‘The Judge has handed out a significant sentence to Williams which is wholly consistent with those previously sentenced.

‘I am really pleased with the overall result and the disruption that this investigation has caused to an organised gang working from London to bring substantial amounts of Class A drugs into the South West.

‘Today marks the end of a long and complex investigation of which six key individuals will remain in prison for a substantial length of time.

‘I commend the hard work of the investigation team, the Crown Prosecution Service and the various police teams that supported the Devon and Cornwall investigation.

‘Devon and Cornwall Police will continue to identify and disrupt those that feel they can visit the South West region to supply controlled drugs and bring misery to our communities.

‘I would urge our communities to report activities so that we can act fast and prevent these types of gangs getting a foothold within our towns and cities.’

At a separate hearing at Exeter Crown Court in January, Vasija, 40, and Lleshi, 25, both of Buckhurst Hill, Essex, were jailed for 11 years and two months and 10 years and six months respectively.

Minchinton, 42, of Kings Drive, Brixham, was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison.

Evans, 43, of Mount Lidden, Penzance, was jailed for five years and seven months.

Harrison, 27, of Torridge Way, Plymouth, was sentenced to four years and four months in prison.

The court heard Lleshi clocked up thousands of miles driving from Essex to the South West and back again delivering drugs and collecting cash, but unknown to him, he was being followed by trained surveillance officers.

He was covertly watched making frequent and fleeting visits to Williams in Bristol, Evans in Penzance, Harrison in Plymouth, and Minchinton in Brixham carrying packages and bags to and from the properties.

Police stopped Lleshi outside of Williams’s home on 28 November 2019 and caught him with a bag containing 3kg of cocaine with a street value of £250,000.

Williams was also spotted in the house next-door, where his elderly parents lived, stuffing items into a carrier bag.

Officers recovered a half-kilogram of cocaine and nearly £160,000 in cash in a cupboard under the stairs.

Ann Hampshire, Senior Crown Prosecutor in the CPS South West Complex Casework Unit, said: ‘This was a complex and large scale investigation involving vast amounts of material. The CPS worked closely with specialist officers in Devon and Cornwall Police to build a compelling case against the group and demonstrate the individual role that each defendant played.

‘The group ran a substantial business operation distributing cocaine into the Westcountry and generating hundreds of thousands of pounds of income. Proceedings are underway to confiscate any assets the defendants have, to ensure they do not profit from their crimes.

‘This is one of a series of successful cases where the CPS and Devon and Cornwall Police have disrupted and dismantled organised crime groups bringing drugs into the South West. We will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the police to robustly prosecute these groups and protect the public across the region”.

• If you have been affected by the above article, you can access information on drug and alcohol support on the following link: www.dc.police.uk/drugs-alcohol-support

You can also visit the Frank website to find local drug treatment services.