Drug dealers used Dominos vans to transport cocaine during lockdown

A Liverpool drug dealer navigated national lockdown rules by using a Domino's van to move his illicit stock around, a court has heard.

Michael Devine was sentenced to 17 years and three months in jail at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday, the Liverpool ECHO reported.

Charles Lander, prosecuting, pointed out to the court that Devine, nicknamed Pasta, even complained about business being slow because of lockdown.

He said: "It is apparent that the defendant is lamenting the sparse trading that is going on at that time.

"As the court will note, these conversations were taking place during the early stages of the national lockdown when only key workers were supposed to be lawfully travelling on the national roads."

Messages obtained by police from the secure, but now defunct, communications network EncroChat showed that Devine initially moaned about how the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic held back his business of sourcing and distributing drug hauls.

But he quickly adapted to the unprecedented circumstances, partly with the help of a contact with a Domino's van.

On April 2, 2020, within a fortnight of the social restrictions being implemented, the 45-year-old complained about business to other contacts on EncroChat, through his profile 'lawfularbor'.

On it, the defendant informs 'busyage' – another EncroChat profile – that he has "got seven bottoms only done a half passing them back."

Bottoms is slang for heroin, leading police to interpret the message as Devine being "in possession of 7kgs of heroin but had only been able to sell half of his stock," and that he wanted to sell it back to the original seller.

He managed to continue trading with the help of a contact with a vehicle that offered cover through the key worker exemption to the ban on travel.

Mr Lander explained: "The defendant has an insightful conversation with the handle 'destructivetailor' about the drugs supply market and the scarcity of the product.

"The defendant states that he uses a courier who has access to a 'Domino's' van that goes 'all round the UK' – ie. using transport that had key worker status and hence less likely to attract the attention of the police during the national lockdown."

The EncroChat contact 'destructivetailor' then makes enquiries about whether Devine's associate would be willing to travel to Nottingham.

A separate conversation between Devine and a user called 'digitalbread', about a plan to buy heroin, points to the use of an AA recovery truck to deliver a drugs press.

The defendant also had an 8kgs cocaine shipment from the Netherlands busted by delivery service UPS.

Summing up the flexibility of Devine, Mr Lander said that in addition to using UPS delivery, an examination of the encrypted messages also revealed that the defendant and his associates had access to other methods of transport for their lucrative drugs’ business.

"Including the use of key worker vehicles that meant they were less likely to attract the attention of the authorities during the early months of the Covid pandemic," he said.

Although the EncroChat conversations referenced huge importation and distribution plots Nigel Power, QC, defending, argued that "there is not necessarily a supply."

Mr Power urged Judge Denis Watson, QC, to focus on the quantities of drugs the prosecution could directly link to Devine.

This included the cocaine intercepted by UPS, while Devine was also linked to the supply of at least 11kgs of cocaine and 16kgs of heroin.

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Devine admitted conspiracies to import and supply cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and ketamine.

Passing sentence, Judge Watson said the messages gave context to the level Devine was operating at, and that he was satisfied Devine had imported at least 8kgs of cocaine and the supply of 11kgs of cocaine and 16kgs of heroin at "an absolute minimum".

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