sohail ashraf

A drugs gang who used the dark web to import crystal meth and flood the street of West Yorkshire have been jailed for more than 30 years.

The drug – which is one of the most addictive in the world – was imported from Canada in a popular comparison website’s freebie toys, Leeds Crown Court heard.

The gang – which included a Dewsbury drug addict and his wife – sold in excess of 1kg of controlled drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds, including cocaine and ecstasy, throughout four months in 2017.

Drugs were sold to addicts through a ‘ring-and-bring’ phone line, as well as dealers, the court was told.

Patrick Palmer, prosecuting, said drugs worth £61,000 were recovered and at least £45,037 in cash was identified.

Ringleader Hassan Jalilian, also known as Josh or Neema, ran the operation from his then-girlfriend Cheryl Scott’s flat in Leeds and recruited then-addicts Michael Bendo and Gohar Manzoor to sell the drugs.

Jalilian had also turned Crown House on Armley Road into a drugs factory and was in the process of turning it into a gym as a front when Border Force officials intercepted several parcels full of drugs.

Crystal meth is rare in the UK and particularly in Yorkshire.

Mr Palmer said: “Up until 2017, there was no market for this drug in Yorkshire thus this group had to create a market.”

In 2017, six of the seven crystal meth cases forensics saw in Yorkshire were related to this case.

Sentencing, Judge Mushtaq Khokhar said: “Drugs – as some of these defendants know – devastate families.”

Offences and sentences

  • Jalilian, Manzoor, Scott and Bendo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply crystal meth, cocaine, MDMA, Mephedrone also known as M-CAT, and gamma-Butyrolactone.
  • Jalilian, 27, of Batter Lane in Rawden, Leeds, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to fraudulently evade the importation of crystal meth, having CS gas with intent to resist arrest, possession of CS spray, administering a poisonous or noxious substance with intent, having a hunting knife, having a lock knife, dangerous driving and possession of criminal property. He was jailed for 11-and-a-half years and disqualified from driving for seven-and-a-half years.
  • Jalilian’s former girlfriend Scott, 45, whose martial home is in East End Crescent, Barnsley, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to fraudulently evade the importation of crystal meth and possession of a prohibited weapon. She was jailed for five years.
  • Bendo, 22, of Kirklees Garth in Pudsey, Leeds, also pleaded guilty to possession of criminal property and assisting an offender. He was jailed for eight years.
  • Former drug addict Manzoor, 27, of Low Road in Dewsbury Moor, Dewsbury, also pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine, possession with intent to supply crystal meth, possession with intent to supply 4-Chloromethcathinone and possession of criminal property. He was jailed for seven years and four months.
  • Manzoor’s 25-year-old wife Razna Begum, who lived with him in Dewsbury, pleaded guilty to possession of criminal property. She was sentenced to a 12-month community order and ordered to complete a 10-day rehabilitation activity requirement.
  • Mona Mohseni, 33, of Stonegate Mews, Meanwood, Leeds, pleaded guilty to possession of criminal property and assisting an offender. She was dealt with separately in June last year. She was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

The plot

Mr Palmer said: “Jalilian, having seen this gap in the drug market, used his contacts and the dark web to order and import crystal meth and has used crypto currency – bitcoin – to pay for the drug and preserve secrecy.

“He then sought ways to send a text advertising drug supply to multiple telephone numbers. . .

“This product would then only be available on the ‘Josh Line’, i.e. the group’s drugs mobile phone line.”

A book called ‘The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld’ was found in Scott’s flat in Redesdale Gardens, Adel.

Scott – a separated 45-year-old designer who worked for lingerie manufacturer Inspire Intimates in Harrogate and had no previous convictions – had become infatuated with 27-year-old drug user Jalilian and let him move into her flat with her in mid-2016.

Six parcels were sent from Canada to the flat and parcels were also sent to Scott’s workplace.

The court heard Scott ordered items online such as chemistry kits to assist Jalilian.

Her flat was soon littered with drugs, drugs production paraphernalia, cash and weapons, including a hunting knife.

Jalilian, who used a burner phone to threaten a rival drug dealer, also leased commercial premises – Crown House – in order to store, cut and distribute the drugs and was setting it up as a gym as a front.

On the run

In March 2017, Manzoor was ‘insensible’ and 10 times over the drug-drive limit in a BMW which was stranded in the middle of a road.

The car contained drugs and cash and Manzoor was hospitalised in a drug-induced coma before being arrested and bailed.

In May and June 2017, Border Force officials intercepted three parcels which were sent to Scott’s home from Canada and addressed to Jalilian.

The three parcels contained a comparison website confused.com ‘Stunt Herbert’ toy.

Hidden inside each toy was a foil package containing about 50g of crystal meth with a purity of 99% and a street value of £18,000.

At 7.40am on June 27, 2017, Jalilian pulled up in his BMW alongside officers parked outside Scott’s home and criticised their parking.

When they asked him to get out of the car, Jalilian sprayed them with CS gas and drove off, colliding with cars and a stationary police vehicle.

He abandoned his damaged car and ran off on foot. A large hunting knife was later found in the BMW.

Minutes later, officers searched Scott’s home and found drugs, digital scales, an industrial money counter, an industrial heat cooker, an industrial vacuum sealer, a receipt for a large hydraulic press and ‘The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld’.

While Jalilian was on the run, he attempted to contact Scott through Bendo.

But at 10.25am, she arrived home in her Honda Civic and was arrested. She told officers: “I’ve been so stupid, I’m just a soft touch, I see the best in everybody.”

At around 10pm, Jalilian returned to Crown House and left carrying a safe.

The next day, Crown House was searched and the hydraulic press was found with Jalilian and Bendo’s fingerprints on it.

Adulterates benzocaine, boric acid and caffeine were also found, along with other production paraphernalia, three burner phones and dealer cards. another CS cannister and a hunting knife.

Jalilian messaged Scott on Facebook to say he had been ambushed outside her house, apologise for putting her in a bad position and say he will help her financially and contact her on a French phone number.

Jalilian’s attempted escape from the UK was facilitated by Mona Mohseni who booked him a Megabus ticket to Southampton Airport under a false name but her address, phone number and email address. She was arrested from her home in Stonegate Mews, Meanwood, Leeds.

At 6.50pm on July 1, 2017, Jalilian was arrested as he was about to take a taxi to the airport. He had more than £8,500 in cash and in a suitcase had more than £30,000 in drugs, a Stanley knife and the key for the safe.

While police were forcing entry into Manzoor’s home – which was covered in high-quality CCTV cameras – to arrest him on October 31, 2017, he snapped his phone and destroyed the SIM card and flushed drugs down the toilet.

Thousands of pounds of cash and a Mercedes car were seized from Bendo’s home. Text messages about the ‘best Bolivian and Columbian coke’ and ‘banging, dynamite and TNT flake’ were recovered from his phones.

On October 31, 2017, police officers raided Manzoor and his wife’s home on Low Lane in Dewsbury.

Mr Palmer said: “Despite repeated knocking the door was not opened. Officers could hear the toilet being flushed. The door was forced. Manzoor was found stood near the toilet door. He was arrested.”

Begum was standing on the stairs and their child was present.

Mr Palmer said: “On the floor of the bedroom was a large kitchen knife. Cocaine was found on top of a CCTV hard drive. A drawer underneath the CCTV drive contained a large quantity of cash and a pair of latex gloves covered in cocaine. A green bowl containing a grip seal bag and white powder was also found in the bedroom. . . A grip seal bag containing 5g of cocaine was found in the premises to the value of £500.”

One of his burner phones showed threats made to a customer over £630 debt.

Begum’s handbag contained a large quantity of cash and a receipt for a luxury hotel in London for £756.

CCTV showed the couple standing at the reception desk of the hotel. Manzoor made no comment in his police interview and Begum denied any knowledge of drugs being in the house.

Mitigation

Andrew Dallas, mitigating for Jalilian, said his client has attention deficit disorder and was suffering from mental health issues at the time of the offences, adding: “This is an unusual organisation in the drugs world where the person who acknowledges had the leading role leaves a trail very easy to see.”

The prosecution claimed Scott was ‘infatuated’ with Jalilian, but her barrister Michael Miller disputed this. Scott gave evidence to claim her relationship with Scott had been coercive, adding:

“He had basically taken over the flat.” But the judge found: “It was her feelings for Jalilian that caused her to behave in the manner she did.”

Nick Worsley, mitigating for Bendo, said his client previously worked for Jaguar Land Rover but quit due to suffering from depression and anxiety.

He said Bendo took up the reigns of the operation when his friend could not keep up with it and he deeply regrets getting involved

Glenn Parsons described his client Manzoor as ‘not a sophisticated criminal’ who suffered from depression and became addicted to drugs after his older brother died of natural causes at a young age.

Mr Parsons said Manzoor was killing himself with drugs, perhaps intentionally, adding: “His arrest was something of a blessing in disguise because he was really on his way out.”

Jeremy Barton, mitigating for Manzoor’s wife Begum, said the full-time mum turned a blind eye to her husband’s drug use.

Police statement

West Yorkshire Police arrested the gang as part of Operation Doveside.

DI Phil Jackson, of Leeds District Serious Organised Crime Unit, said: “This group were involved in a very sophisticated criminal enterprise which saw large amounts of controlled drugs, notably highly-addictive crystal methamphetamine, imported into the country and supplied to a large customer base across West Yorkshire through a ‘ring-and-bring’ phone line.

“We regularly see how addictive drugs cause untold misery and harm to individual users and to local communities where they fuel crime and anti-social behaviour. The activities of this drug-dealing operation will have been responsible for causing a significant amount of those issues.

“We also seized an arsenal of weapons from various address and vehicles during the investigation, and Jalilian showed he was prepared to use them to try to avoid capture when officers first moved to arrest him. He sprayed them with a noxious substance, resulting in one officer needing hospital treatment, and then rammed their police vehicle to get away.

“When we tracked him down he had a large amount of drugs and cash on him and was clearly planning to flee the country.

“We hope the significant sentences that he and his accomplices have received will serve as a stark reminder of the serious penalties that those who deal drugs can expect.

“We also hope it will provide suitable reassurance to the community and illustrate our ongoing commitment to targeting those who think they can profit from the destructive trade in drugs.”