EIGHT men are starting long jail terms after police cracked a cocaine ring that flooded the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean with hardcore drugs.

Central to the gang’s operation were Richard Lawrence, 34, of Smithy Road, Llandogo, who even kept the operation going from his jail cell after being arrested, and Shane Tyrrell, 48, of Cliff View, Sedbury, who used a butchers as a hiding place and front for the ring.

Drugs were imported from the West Midlands, and stored in various places, including Lawrence’s home, the butchers and a storage container off Monmouth’s Manson Lane.

Concerns raised with the Neighbourhood Policing Team about suspected drug dealing in Sedbury in 2020 led to police launching Operation Global.

Dozens of meetings by gang members were observed undercover at pubs, businesses, homes and storage units across the West Midlands and the Wyedean area as they conspired to transport and cut the cocaine further.

Hundreds of calls and text messages between the dealers shared addresses for the co-ordinated delivery of cash and drugs, Gloucester Crown Court heard last week.

Two Coleford men were also central to the local end of the operation – Jason Grindle, 36, of Market Place, Coleford, and Alan Ballinger, 28, of St John Street, Coleford.

The other gang members were Brett Anslow, 39, of Four Winds Road, Dudley; Michael Chand, 55, of Old Bridge Walk, Birmingham; Trevor Cook, 48, of Wheelright Close, Wednesbury; and Paul Johnson, 35, of Station Terrace, Cinderford.

The West Midlands group was headed by Anslow, with Cook and Chand working under him.

The court heard that Johnson was seen in the driver’s seat of a car at St Briavels Castle in April 2021 and questioned by a police officer who noticed a suspicious package wrapped in cling film on the back seat.

PC Boyden told him he was being arrested and when Johnson started the car, he reached into the window to try and remove the keys, only for Johnson to drive forwards knocking him off his feet.

But the officer bravely held on and succesfully stopped the engine after a few yards.

A box containing nearly 1kg of cannabis and 0.854g of cocaine was seized, along with three further packages containing 22.4g of crack cocaine and 69.8g of cocaine hydrochloride which were found on the floor along with two mobile phones.

The following month, Lawrence was watched outside his Llandogo house next to a car that had been hired by a member of Johnson’s family, and was then seen visiting Tyrrell’s butcher’s shop in Sedbury and phoning other gang members before a deal is concluded with the West Midlands end of the ring near the Lidl supermarket in Monmouth.

He was also seen driving to the self-storage container near Manson’s Lane on two occasions, once with Grindle, and transferring a brown box. Four days later, Grindle attended the container and paid the manager £200 in cash for its rental.

Days later, Lawrence was also caught on CCTV taking two laden bin liners to his car from the butchers and coming and going to the premises, at which point police made their move executing warrants at Tyrrell’s home and butcher’s shop, finding more than 3.4kg of cocaine and 1kg of Benzocaineand 3kg of amphetamine in a freezer.

At Lawrence’s home, they found £5,300 in cash, a cash counting machine and a crypto currency wallet containing thousands of pounds.

In the self-storage unit in Monmouth, police found three tubs containing 1,357g of cocaine adulterated with boric acid and benzocaine, the court was told.

Benzocaine weighing 5,210g and 4,473g of boric acid were also recovered along with 281 ecstasy tablets and 2kg of cannabis, alongside digital scales and silica gel bag.

Both Lawrence and Tyrell were arrested but their lucrative operation continued unabated.

Ballinger, a cocaine dealer in his own right, stepped in as head of the local group on the outside, while Lawrence used a secret mobile phone in custody to communicate with his ‘mules’.

On September 15, 2021, further warrants were executed at the homes of Anslow, Cook, Chand and Grindle, and a further 1.4kg of cocaine, £49,235 in cash and mobile phones were recovered.

The eight men all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine.

Lawrence and Tyrell also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply amphetamines, while Johnson pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis with the intent to supply.

Sentencing the men, His Honour Judge Ian Lawrie KC told them: “Based on the evidence that I have read, the amount of money and drugs which were involved were just the tip of the iceberg in this conspiracy.”

Lawrence and Anslow, who were the ringleaders of the conspiracy, were given jail terms of nine years each.

Ballinger was sentenced to 42 months in prison; Johnson and Tyrell were handed sentences of five years and seven months each; and Chand, Grindle and Cook were given six years each in jail.

Detective Inspector Matt Phillips, from the Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “These men thought they were untouchable by the police, but this investigation has shown that nobody is above the law.

“This sentence is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all the officers involved in this case, from the initial intelligence gained by our Neighbourhood Policing Team from the community, to the thorough and meticulous investigation by our detectives and analysts.

“It sends a strong message to anyone dealing drugs that Gloucestershire Constabulary takes this problem incredibly seriously and that we have the resources to tackle even the most organised of crime groups.

“If anybody is concerned about drug dealing in their community, or that their loved ones might be involved in drug dealing, they can contact the police and we will always follow up that information and do all we can to ensure justice is served.”