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Drug dealer who stashed nearly £500K of cocaine on yacht is jailed


A DRUG dealer who kept cocaine with a street value of nearly £500,000 on a boat in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, has been jailed for eight years.

Ben Cunningham, 49, (below) of Wyton Moorings, Banks End, was found to be a key cog within a criminal network selling drugs in the Cambridgeshire area, buying and selling drugs on a commercial scale.

He was arrested in March 2022 by detectives from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) whilst aboard the San Periel boat, which was moored on the River Great Ouse in Huntingdon.

Investigators searching the vessel found blocks of high purity cocaine with a potential street value of £470,000, along with more than £13,000 in cash and cannabis worth £7,000.

The investigation established that Cunningham was a local link to an organised crime group (OCG) which moved and sold cocaine across the UK.

Two members of the drug dealing network were jailed earlier this year for a combined 24 years.

Tracy Wicks, 49, of Bunyan Road, Kempston, Bedfordshire, was also aboard the San Periel when officers raided the boat, with detectives finding scales and more cocaine within a parcel addressed to her.

Officers established that Cunningham and Wicks had also been staying at The Old Bridge Hotel, near to their mooring, spending more than £900 on accommodation and food.

Cunningham was charged and subsequently pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine and cannabis, and possession of criminal property.

On Friday (4 August) he was jailed following a hearing at Cambridge Crown Court.

Wicks was previously handed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine.

Detective Inspector Ian Mawdesley, from ERSOU’s Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: “Through our enquiries it was clear that Cunningham played a leading role in the sale and movement of cocaine in Cambridgeshire, and it’s positive that he will now spend significant time behind bars.

“Despite having no legitimate source of income, Cunningham and Wicks used the profit from the illicit sale of drugs to live a lavish lifestyle, frequently dining out and staying in expensive hotels. They paid no regard for the harm their actions were causing the local area.

“Drug dealing has a devastating effect on our communities and is often directly connected to a wide range of criminality such as burglary, robbery and exploitation.

“Detectives from ERSOU will continue to target those in our region who are involved in drug dealing and take action to apprehend and put them before the courts.”

In the earlier case Amir Manoucherhri, 33, (below) of Hulme Hall Road, Manchester, had bragged he couldn’t ‘get rid’ of the cash he made selling cocaine.

He was jailed alongside his criminal associate Oscar MacKenzie, 33, of Well Terrace, Clitheroe in Lancashire.

The pair from north west England were apprehended after detectives from ERSOU's Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) uncovered their roles in a network of drug dealers transporting significant amounts of the class A drug across the country.

Manoucherhri was jailed earlier this year for 14 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine.

His fingerprints were found on wholesale packages of cocaine, and investigators searching a van he had used uncovered two hidden compartments thought to have been used to transport the drugs.

MacKenzie was jailed for 10 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine.

His fingerprints were also located on bags of high purity cocaine, with officers later finding messages of him flaunting the cash he’d made illicitly.

Enquiries showed that, between January 2021 and May 2022, the pair regularly travelled across the country to meet with local drug dealers in places including Birmingham, Cardiff, Derbyshire, Monmouthshire, and Worcestershire.

Their criminal enterprise was dismantled after separate police investigations into their illicit networks identified fingerprints on packages of cocaine seized in Essex and Surrey.

MacKenzie was arrested in Birmingham in May 2022, with detectives searching his home address in Clitheroe and finding a kilogramme block of compressed cocaine, along with deal size bags of cocaine and ketamine, scales and a counterfeit Rolex watch.

Digital forensics experts analysing his phone found messages of him flaunting wads of cash. In one video of a pile of £20 notes on a table, he is heard to say: “One hundred grand, let’s go on… holiday.”

In another showing a pile of £50 notes, he can be heard saying “Look at how many fifties I have got… three-and-a-half quid… can’t get rid of them.”

On the same day as MacKenzie’s arrest, detectives searched a house in Rayleigh, Essex, which was found to contain more than eight kilogrammes of cocaine. Further analysis of the packages found his fingerprints on two bags of the drugs.

Manoucherhri was also arrested in May 2022. Officers seized a plastic bag containing cocaine residue, along with counterfeit Rolex and Audemars Piquet watches.

After taking his fingerprints, officers found they matched those identified on packages of cocaine from an investigation into a drug dealing in Banstead, Surrey, in February 2021, where 23 kilogramme-blocks of the drug were seized. The fingerprints at that time could not be attributed.

The pair were jailed following a hearing at Peterborough Crown Court today (Friday), having both previously pleaded guilty.

Detective Inspector Ian Mawdesley, from ERSOU ROCU, said: “MacKenzie and Manoucherhri travelled significant distances across the length and breadth of the country, regularly meeting with other drug dealers and criminals.

“This result shows that we will continue to follow up on enquiries into potential drug dealers, even if months and years may have passed since an investigation begins.

“That MacKenzie felt he could openly flaunt the cash he made selling such dangerous drugs shows how little regard he has for the knock-on impact drugs have on society.

“Drug-related crime is intrinsically linked to gang violence, exploitation of vulnerable and young people, and even crime such as burglary and robbery. Policing agencies will continue to work together to apprehend those looking to bring drugs into our communities and put them before the courts.”

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