An organised crime network who smuggled drugs, mobile phones and even a Freeview box into prisons using drones have been jailed for a total of 28 years.
The gang transported contraband worth up to £370,000 directly to inmates at jails across England and Scotland.
A court heard how they used remote-controlled drones, equipped with fishing lines and hooks, which could fly banned items ‘straight to the cell that had ordered them’.
In total, 49 drone flights and four ‘throw-overs’ took place which transported cocaine, cannabis, synthetic drugs, tools – such as hacksaw blades and cutters – mobile phones and even a Freeview box.
A gang who used drones like this one to smuggle drugs into prisons have been jailed
Prisoners were seen going into cells where drones landed to collect their drugs ‘orders’
The offences were committed at prisons in Birmingham, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Liverpool, and Perth between July 15, 2015 and May 17 this year.
Eight members of the gang were jailed at Birmingham Crown Court today for their part in the conspiracy.
Ring-leader and drone pilot Mervyn Foster, 38, of Tipton, West Midlands, was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after being described as the mastermind of the plot.
His right-hand man, former armed robber Craig Hickinbottom, 35, who organised the flights from behind bars, was caged for a further seven years and two months.
Sentencing Judge Roderick Henderson said: ‘Prisons are a hard place to run, that not only contains dangerous people but people who are vulnerable in themselves.
‘There is a real risk of violence and loss of control and to do that is desperately serious.
‘There were regular deliveries of cannabis, mobile phone, tools and psychoactive substance. 19 of the 53 of the deliveries were intercepted, which included 3kg of psychoactive substance.
Craig Hickinbottom was jailed for seven years and two months for directing the gang’s drone flights and ‘throw-overs’. The money went into his girlfriend Lisa Hodgetts’s bank account
Drone pilot Mervyn Foster (left) and ‘right-hand man’ John Quinn organised the flights from outside
The court heard now packages were intercepted and retrieved on 15 occasions and were found to contain more than 1kg of cannabis and 3kg of psychoactive substances.
Deposited amounts into bank accounts were linked with certain prisoners, with the figures matching the prisoner’s cell number from whom payment had been obtained.
Prosecutor Michelle Heeley QC said: ‘The main commodity that was sent in was psychoactive substances – they are generally all synthetic cannabis substances.
‘It is quite clear the street value of drugs was often in the thousands of pounds.
‘There were deposits into Lisa Hodgett’s [Hickinbottom’s partner’s] bank account which can be linked to serving prisoners and they totalled £3,633.11.
‘The sums can be linked to serving prisoners because in certain instances an amount would be paid, for example, £50.37 – the .37 would match the cell number of the prisoner from whom payment had been obtained.’
Hickinbottom’s brother John (left) was jailed and ‘foot soldier’ Terry Leach’s (right) term was suspended
Hickinbottom’s 32-year-old partner, Lisa Hodgetts, from Tividale, West Midlands, admitted money laundering and was given a 16-month suspended prison term.
Drone pilot Mervyn Foster received a sentence of six years and eight months for his part in the conspiracy.
Foster, of Tipton, West Midlands, was described by the prosecution as the conspiracy’s ‘prime organiser on the outside’, and Hickinbottom’s ‘counterpart’.
The 36-year-old, who was a petty criminal with 31 convictions for 76 offences, worked with ‘right-hand man’ John Quinn, 35, of Tipton.
Quinn was jailed for four years and eight months after admitting three counts of conspiracy and another of conspiring to supply psychoactive substances.
Yvonne Hay was found guilty of conspiracy to convey prohibited articles into a prison. Ashley Rollinson admitted the same charge
Hickinbottom’s brother, 50-year-old John Hickinbottom, was jailed for four years and eight months for his ‘significant’ role.
Terry Leach, 19, of Tipton, was given a two-year suspended jail sentence after being described as a ‘foot soldier’ in the offending.
Ashley Rollinson, 21, of Brierley Hill – who was only involved in one day of the conspiracy – was jailed for 11 months but has already served his sentence on remand.
Meanwhile, Yvonne Hay, 41, and her boyfriend, Francis Ward, of Walsall, were both jailed for two years and four months.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of another defendant after he failed to attend court.
Sanjay Patel, 37, of Telford, Shropshire, was given a four-month sentence for possession of a mobile phone in prison.