Jail for Gosport drugs gang run by convicted killer from his cell at private Serco prison
A BRUTAL killer ran a gang of drug dealers from his jail cell by using illicit iPhones smuggled into prison.
Murderer Liam Whitnell kept in touch with his trusted Essex Boys gang in a ‘profitable and large-scale operation’ carried out by dealers in Gosport for eight months.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard he used 10 phones at Serco-run private jail HMP Dovegate, directing six others in the organised crime group.
Gang members made a combined 41 drug trafficking trips between London and Gosport.
All of this was done while Whitnell, 36, was serving a life sentence with a 24-year minimum term for knifing an innocent family man in 2011.
Today six of the seven gang members were jailed for a combined sentence of 43 years for their crimes between September 2018 and May 2019.
Whitnell previously made national news after putting photos of his 31st birthday cake on Facebook, together with a snap of him on a phone in jail.
The killer, who grinned in the dock during the two-day sentencing hearing, was handed a nine-year term running concurrent with his life sentence.
Whitnell’s lieutenant and childhood friend Rayhaan Hoque, jailed for 10 years, supplied the Gosport end of the gang from his London suppliers.
Couriers Lance Burt and Luke Goldsmith were jailed for five and six years respectively, alongside ‘area manager’ Jacob James who was handed seven.
Drugs ‘cook’ John Parham, who converted cocaine to crack at his home, was jailed for six years. Police searches at his home in The Crossways, Gosport, revealed it was a ‘base’ used for cooking the drugs.
Phones, crack and heroin were found along with a chopping board, a knife with white residue and saucepans.
Some £168,40 worth of drugs were found along with £8,516 in cash.
James was arrested in Briar Close in Gosport in April 2019. Police found £3,680 in a bedroom, and £31,000 in a cupboard together with phones.
Courier Jack Darvill was arrested on September 29 in 2018 at Slug and Lettuce when suspicious door staff alerted police. He had just been on the phone with Whitnell and Burt.
His home was searched and officers found almost half a kilo of heroin worth £49,600 on the streets with deal lists and mobile phones. Darvill was not sentenced today as he is in hospital.
Factory worker Goldsmith was arrested on September 17, 2018, and his home in Inverness Road, Gosport, was searched. A phone, crack, heroin and scales were seized.
But the court heard he was later involved in a ‘sophisticated’ attempt to throw police off the scent - claiming he collected drugs from Manchester to sell on.
While being re-interviewed he showed officers videos supposedly in Manchester - using a backdated newspaper to try and pretend they dated back to September 2018. In truth they were recorded in May.
Dad Hoque, who made 18 deliveries from the capital to Gosport, asked to be spared jail due to his repeated heart attacks and having a pacemaker fitted.
Whitnell, who contracted Covid-19 in February, was repeatedly in touch with all the couriers before, during and after trips.
Those who travelled up from Gosport sometimes spent as little as 150 seconds at Hoque’s family home picking up the class A drugs.
Burt, who admitted being ‘stupid’ for being involved in the conspiracy, was charged on March 19, 2020.
He was stopped days later on April 30, 2020, in a car in Portsdown Hill Road. Police found crack and heroin worth £7,000 on him, and £1,140 in cash.
Burt admitted having criminal property, and two charges of possession with intent to supply.
Handing down the sentences, judge Timothy Mousley QC said the gang were supplying ‘to people who would supply it to street dealers’.
‘The purity of the drugs seized in an unadulterated form was that which would be found to be importation level,’ he said.
He added: ‘Liam Whitnell, you ran the conspiracy from your cell at HMP Dovegate. I’m satisfied that you organised the source of the drugs for Hoque to collect them and to pass the drugs onto couriers.
‘You directed and organised this conspiracy for several months and over that period you had 10 mobile phones.
‘You directed the other conspirators as to what they had to do. You were in contact with Hoque, James and other conspirators before, during and after the drugs had been supplied or handed over.’
Hampshire police’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit investigated the gang between September 2018 and May 1, 2019.
During this time officers seized heroin and crack cocaine worth £275,000 and around £74,500 in cash.
Liam Whitnell, 37, formerly of HMP Dovegate, and Jacob James, 26, of Briar Close, in Gosport, admitted a single charge of conspiring to crack cocaine. James admitted possession of criminal property - £60,055 in cash.
Hoque, 38, of Woolmore Street in Tower Hamlets, London, denied two charges of conspiring to supply class A drugs but was convicted at a trial this week. He was previously jailed for 42 months for conspiring to supply drugs.
Gosport men Goldsmith, 28, of Rambler Drive; Parham, 33, of The Crossways; and Burt, 22, of Bury Hall Lane; admitted two charges of conspiring to supply crack cocaine and heroin.
Darvill, 22, of Londesborough Road, Southsea, also admitted the two charges.
Investigating officer Det Con Edward Wiggans – who was sworn at by Whitnell when he tried to interview him in jail – said: ‘This case showed, through phone data, that this organised crime group carried out an operation to arrange and facilitate the collection and onward supply of Class A drugs to make profit for themselves, which was led by Liam Whitnell from behind bars.
‘Officers involved in this case worked tirelessly to dismantle this sophisticated drugs conspiracy, and we are grateful for the support from the Prison Intelligence Teams who helped us identify the role that Whitnell played in this conspiracy.’
Clare Pearson, Serco prison director at HMP Dovegate, said: ‘Serco has worked closely with the police to achieve this successful prosecution and we are pleased at the outcome of this trial. We take all such crimes extremely seriously and we always work hard to eliminate illegal items such as phones and drugs being smuggled into the prison.’