Two jailed for £11m cocaine racket

TWO men who tried to flood the north east with more than £11m of cocaine have been jailed for a total of 28 years.

Courier Mark Burbidge drove to the region with 15kg of the Class A drug stashed in hidden compartments in his Audi A3 while his minder Gerald O'Leary followed in a Volkswagen Caddy.

But the pair were arrested as they travelled up from Liverpool by officers who had been watching and waiting for the duo, Newcastle Crown Court was told.

O'Leary, of Litherland, Liverpool, denied possessing a controlled drug with intent to supply and claimed he knew nothing about the stash of cocaine.

He did admit to a charge of dangerous driving after reaching 100mph trying to flee from officers in a high speed car chase.

The 53-year-old was found guilty of the drugs charge after a trial at Newcastle Crown Court and jailed for 16 years.

Burbidge, 36, of Chesterfield, admitted the drugs offence and was jailed for 12 years.

Judge Tim Hewitt said: "This was a planned and sophisticated operation, because the car was fitted with a specialised adaptation to conceal the drugs.

"Unbeknown to you, you were the targets of a carefully planned and well executed surveillance operation.

"You were stopped before you reached your destination and before the drugs could be passed on to bring further crime and addiction to the streets of the north east.

"The aggravating features are clear and simple.

"This was a major distributing operation, and you were both important members of that operation."

The cocaine, hidden in two rear door compartments, was of 80 per cent purity and would likely be mixed with other products before being sold on, the court was told.

Kingsley Hyland, prosecuting, said if the drug was sold on the streets at 40 per cent purity it would fetch over 1.44m in sales.

But if it was "bulked" and sold at five per cent purity the potential street value would rise to 11.57m.

Mr Hyland told the court: "Although we say this is a straightforward case, it is undoubtedly a serious case, having regard to the profits that could have been made.

"O'Leary and Burbidge were acting together, jointly conveying this cocaine to somewhere in the north east."