Drugs gang ‘wiped out’

A MAJOR cocaine and cannabis dealer who believed he was “invincible” was last night behind bars after a major operation by police.

Mark Venner was at the “top of the chain” of a set-up specialising in supplying large amounts of high purity cocaine and cannabis worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But the 36-year-old landscape gardener, who also ran the pirate radio station Mystery FM, and two members of his gang were yesterday jailed for a total of 23 years after they were caught out by an undercover surveillance operation.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard Venner came to the police’s attention after Colchester was “flooded” with the illegal drugs last summer.

The father-of-two, of Church Hill, Lawford, was placed under surveillance by detectives who later bugged his Ford Mondeo as they built up a picture of the operation.

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His conversations revealed intimate details about the buying and selling of drugs, exposing all those involved in an operation which had already led to 10 drug convictions before yesterday.

Martyn Levett, prosecuting, said Venner had a network of people working for him and when police swooped on the operation at Bonners Farm, near Mersea Island, last August, they discovered 56 kilos of cannabis worth up to �200,000.

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Three men were arrested but Venner, who was not at the farm, was kept under surveillance.

As Operation Escargot, as it was known, continued, police arrested more members of the gang, making major drugs’s seizures, leaving Venner “exposed and vulnerable”.

However, despite warnings from those he worked with, Venner still did not believe he was under the police spotlight.

Mr Levett said: “He seemed to believe he was invincible, saying that if they knew it was him, surely they would come and arrest him. His prophecy was to come right.”

Police made a series of arrests including Venner in December as police “took out” the large-scale operation.

Venner was sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to supply cocaine and three years, to run consecutively, for conspiracy to supply cannabis. He have a ‘thumbs up’ to family and friends as he left the dock.

Venner’s friend and “trusted aide” Jamie Pinder, 32, of Garland Road, Colchester, 32, was sentenced to five years for conspiracy to supply cocaine and another 18 months for conspiracy to supply cannabis.

Kristian Harvey of Hunting Gate, Colchester, was sent down for five years after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

The 38-year-old, of previous good character, had got involved with the operation after running up drugs debts and when his home was raided police found a “press” used in the manufacturing of cocaine as well large quantities of cutting agent benzocaine.

All of the crimes were committed between July and December last year.

Judge Chris Ball, QC, said it was clear that the men had been involved in a wholesale size drugs operation and praised Essex Police for wiping them out.

Another member of the gang, Collins, 38, of Winnock Road, Colchester was concivted of conspiring to supply cocaine and will be sentenced next week.

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