Operation Venetic: Drugs gang jailed for running industrial scale amphetamine factory in Scotland

Four members of an organised crime group that ran an industrial scale amphetamine lab in Scotland, and trafficked heroin and cocaine, have been sentenced.

A National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation dismantled the organised crime group which was based in Merseyside and run by kingpin Terence Earle, 49, from St Helens.

Earle used the encrypted communications platform EncroChat to organise his criminality and enlisted the help of subordinates Stanley Feerick, 68, and Stephen Singleton, 36, from Liverpool, and Stephen King, 49, from Dumbarton, Scotland.

Earle, Singleton, Baxter and KingPictured (left to right): Terence Earle, Stephen Singleton, Lee Baxter and Stephen King

In December 2020  Lancashire Police, acting on NCA intelligence, seized more than 560 kilos of alpha-phenylacetoacetamide (APAA) – a chemical used in the production of amphetamine –  from the group, which Singleton had supplied. This would have been capable of producing around £1.1m worth of amphetamine at the lab in Scotland.

The substance was found in a lorry which had been loaded from a warehouse on an industrial estate near a caravan park in Weeton, Lancashire, on the orders of Feerick.

The previous month, at the request of the NCA, Feerick had been arrested by Lancashire Police as he drove a lorry southbound on the M6 motorway.  Officers discovered a holdall containing 2.9 kilos of heroin worth £300,000, and £20,000 in cash.

A search of Feerick’s home led to the recovery of another £9,370 in cash.

NCA inquiries found that Earle had also used EncroChat to oversee the trafficking of heroin and cocaine from Scotland to Merseyside, and in the opposite direction, with the assistance of Lee Baxter, 48, of Huyton, Liverpool.

All of the group members were arrested by the NCA in March 2021.

Earle and Baxter pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court on 3 October last year, with Feerick changing his plea to guilty on the day he was due to stand trial. King was convicted by a jury on 15 December, following an eight-day trial. Singleton pleaded guilty on 9 February this year.Heroin found in Ferricks lorry 1

At the same court yesterday (18 April), Earle was sentenced to 16-and-a-half years imprisonment, Singleton to three years and four months , Baxter to 22 months (suspended for 18 months) and King to 18 months (suspended for 18 months). Feerick is due to be sentenced on 3 May.

The NCA’s investigation formed part of Operation Venetic, the UK NCA-led law enforcement response to the takedown of the EncroChat service in July 2020.

It was supported by the Scottish Organised Crime Partnership (OCP) – a joint NCA and Police Scotland unit – and the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce.

NCA Branch Commander Richie Davies said: “This crime group posed a serious threat to communities across Scotland and Merseyside.

“They were intent on profiting from producing and supplying illegal drugs on a large scale, despite knowing the danger those drugs posed to users and others affected by the violence and exploitation fuelled by the trade.

“They tried to conceal their unlawful activities but the NCA’s investigation, supported by our partners in Scotland and Lancashire Police, has dismantled  their criminal group. Today’s sentencing demonstrates the importance of the NCA’s work to protect the public from the highest risk criminals impacting on the UK.”

19 April 2023