Hunsdon-based £60m drug smuggling convictions were highlight for specialist police unit ERSOU
Jail sentences for a gang who used a Hunsdon farm as the heart of their heroin and cocaine smuggling racket was a highlight of 2020 for the specialist police unit which tackles serious organised crime in the East of England region.
The four men behind the importation of almost £60 million worth of class A narcotics were jailed for a total of 50 yearsafter the biggest ever drugs conspiracy investigation in the 10-year history of the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).
It is also the largest drugs investigation ever in Hertfordshire, with around £4m of class A substances being recovered from two shipments from the Netherlands to the farm – just eight miles from Bishop's Stortford.
The gang – ringleader Robert Brooks, 50, from Hertford, Richard Campbell, 49, and Tomasz Wozniak, 29, both of Milton Keynes, and courier Stephen Capp, 56, from Hull – tried to hide the drugs in boxes for plastic spider catchers, as well as disguising them in Jack Daniels packaging.
The operation to smash their smuggling ring was the subject of a two-part special in Channel 4 TV's 24 Hours in Police Custody series. It was watched by over six million people.
Investigations in 2020 by ERSOU – whose other main function, apart from tackling serious organised crime, is counter terrorism policing – have resulted in prison terms totalling more than 100 years.
The unit's economic crime team also ensured offenders paid back £2.25m through confiscation orders made under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) legislation, while more than £1.3m was secured as compensation for victims of crime.
Hannah Wilkinson, head of the regional organised crime unit, said: "This year has presented some incredible challenges for all of us, but criminals don't take breaks and our investigators continued to work tirelessly throughout the year to pursue those looking to bring harm to our communities.
"There's a huge amount of work taking place behind a large number of operations which often doesn't make it into the public domain, and I'd like to thank everyone involved for their tenacity and commitment to keeping the region safe.
"We're looking forward to continuing to protect the public across the eastern region from the threat of serious and organised crime in 2021."
What is ERSOU?
Created in 2010, ERSOU is funded by the seven police forces that make up the Eastern region, with Bedfordshire Police being the lead force. It is made up of police officers and staff from across the region. It has two main functions: regional organised crime unit (ROCU) and counter terrorism policing (CTP).
Regional organised crime unit
The aim of the ROCU is primarily to identify and disrupt organised criminals operating across the region.
It is one of 10 ROCUs operating across England and Wales providing specialist capability to tackle the increasingly complex threat posed by organised crime.
Officers and staff in the unit tackle a range of crime – from child sexual exploitation and modern slavery to county drugs lines and cybercrime.
The unit also has an economic crime team which tackles offences such as fraud and money laundering, as well as using the latest Proceeds of Crime Act legislation to ensure crime never pays.
Counter terrorism policing
The CTP unit aims to manage the threat of terrorism across the region and is part of the counter terrorism policing national network.
The unit has officers covering all four areas of the Government’s CONTEST strategy: Protect, Prepare, Prevent and Pursue.
It has a substantial presence at ports across the region, including Stansted Airport.