Former Hucknall gym owner jailed for masterminding cocaine and heroin conspiracy

The former owner of a Hucknall gym was the "right-hand man" in a criminal gang that shipped hundreds and thousands of pounds worth of cocaine and heroin into Nottingham, a court has heard.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 4:20 pm

David Martin, described as "one place below Mr Big," negotiated prices and organised transportation for seven kilos of the Class A drugs from Liverpool while paying couriers from Hucknall and Nuthall a few hundred pounds, prosecutor Kevin Barry told Nottingham Crown Court.

He used the code-name ‘Steel Whale’ during EncroChat conversations with other high-level dealers, between March 31 and June 8 last year, but the encrypted phone network, "used principally by criminals," was compromised by the National Crime Agency as part of Operation Venetic.

Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and mobile phone tracking, police traced journeys made by Lee Bennett, of Hucknall, and Jamie Wilkinson, of Nuthall.

David Martin

Martin bragged to his Liverpool-based supplier, code-named ‘Naked Otter,’ they had "done £1 million of business together," Mr Barry said.

In April, just after the first lockdown, Martin suggested using a private ambulance, owned by a firm near his gym in Hucknall, and dressing the courier as a nurse to evade traffic restrictions.

In the end, Jamie Wilkinson drove a van to Liverpool for a passport-protected meeting where he collected five kilos of cocaine and two kilos of heroin, which he transported back, hidden in a spare tyre, on April 6.

He paid £30,000 in cash and Martin was given £395,000 of credit for the drugs, but shortly afterwards Martin complained that one kilo of the cocaine "smelled of yeast" and was unsatisfactory.

Jamie Wilkinson.

Nine days later, Wilkinson again travelled to Liverpool to deliver £10,000 in cash and exchange the cocaine.

‘Naked Otter’ later accused Martin of swapping the cocaine for amphetamine to "diddle him," the court heard on Wednesday, and Martin "vociferously denied this."

Lee Bennett drove his own black Vauxhall Zafira to Liverpool to collect "at the very least one kilo of Class A drugs", on May 15, and deliver £30,000 in cash, on May 29.

On June 13, EncroChat realised their network had been compromised and advised their users to dispose of their devices immediately.

Lee Bennett.

Martin went to Liverpool the next day to arrange for a new phone and Bennett collected it, along with written instructions and passwords, on June 18.

He was arrested on his return to Nottinghamshire. Wilkinson and Bennett were paid just £200 per trip.

Martin has "a large number of previous convictions," said Mr Barry, and he received ten months for robbery and possession of an imitation firearm, in 2006.

Nicknamed ‘Chunk,’ because of his muscular appearance, the court heard that Martin never touched the drugs he sold. He also discussed selling heroin with another EncroChat user, although no deal was struck, and claimed he had a “steady” supply line.

Some of the drugs seized by police.

Daniel Bishop said Martin was "a novice" who only became involved after lockdown forced his gym to close.

"His role was logistical," he said. "He has no relevant drug convictions. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 and has been in remission since 2019. He has four children.”

Phillip Bown said Wilkinson was "a hard working family man" who "made the worst decision of his life on April 15, last year."

The former mechanic and odd-job man lost work during the lockdown and was "strapped for cash."

"He had no idea of the extent of what he was getting involved with. He had no idea what was in the tyre. The packages he took were sealed."

He was referred to as a "liability worried all the way" by Martin after he was late for the first meeting.

Mr Bown said Wilkinson initially denied the charge because "he found it very difficult to come to terms with what he had done."

James Horne said Bennett's role was limited and that he was a man of previous good character who had no influence on anyone else in the chain.

“He used his own mobile phone and a vehicle registered in his own name,” he said. “He is remorseful for his actions.”

The self-employed sign fitter found himself out of work for the first time in his adult life during lockdown, Mr Horne said.

"He is the only defendant to enter a guilty plea long before a High Court ruling on the admissibility of intercepted material. Up and down the country defendants were adjourning cases to wait for the ruling.”

Martin, 42, of Third Avenue, Rainworth, Bennett, 30, of Kenbrook Road, Hucknall, and Wilkinson, 45, of Ash Crescent, Nuthall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Judge Julie Warburton said Martin was “a general” in the crime gang who began as a novice, but “quickly appreciated the scale of the operation.”

She sentenced him to nine years. Wilkinson was jailed for four-and-a-half years and Bennett received three-and-a-half years.

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