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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Adam Everett

Gang led by 'Jabba the Hutt' smuggled wholesale quantities of heroin into UK

A gang led by "Jabba the Hutt" smuggled wholesale quantities of heroin into the UK from the Netherlands.

The Merseyside-based organised crime group also supplied millions of pounds of class A drugs across the north west. Anthony Bowden, one of Jabba's most closely trusted associates, was today locked up for 21 years over the ring.

Liverpool Crown Court heard this morning, Friday, that the large-scale operation was organised on encrypted communications platform EncroChat. The OCG's boss used a device with the handle JabbaTheHutt as he directed the sale of more than 84kg heroin and 17kg cocaine.

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Of this amount, the gang had been responsible for the importation of more than 20kg of heroin and 4kg of coke. Bowden operated under the handle HyenaJaw and "had close links" with the Star Wars-inspired "head of the operation".

The personal trainer "was closely trusted by" Jabba and "played a leading role" in the conspiracy. The 40-year-old organised the purchase and sale of drugs "on a commercial scale" and arranged for couriers to transport the illicit substances.

Bowden, from West Derby, also supplied his cousin Andrew Sweeney - who used the handle SquashChamp. The 40-year-old taxi driver, from Bootle, received at least four-and-a-half kilos of heroin for onward sale from his relative between March and May 2020, taking possession of one lot of 2kg of drugs at a cost of £32,000 on one occasion.

Police raided the former's home on Lancer Way on June 19 2020 after the authorities gained access to EncroChat. Officers seized £30,000 of designer clothing and shoes, while Bowden attempted to destroy a mobile phone by submerging it in a glass of water.

(Merseyside Police)

He was later arrested again at Holyhead ferry terminal on May 10 2021. Some of his secret messages "claimed lockdown would not impact his dealing", while the dealer "discussed ways of attempting to avoid detection by police".

Bowden discussed the importation of drugs from Holland with his conspirators via the network, making reference to a "clogs bill" to be paid to suppliers on the continent. At least three supply missions were made between the Netherlands and the UK, while shady business was also conducted over WhatsApp.

Bowden - who appeared in court via video link to HMP Altcourse - was found guilty of conspiracy to import heroin, conspiracy to supply heroin and cocaine and possession of criminal property by a jury after a trial. He was previously jailed for four years in 2012 for conspiracy to supply cocaine.

Sentencing, Judge Anil Murray said: "Serving that sentence did not put you off committing very serious crime. You decided the risk of being caught was low and the high reward was worth it.

"What you did was to advance the interests of the operation. I am sure yours was a leading role.

"You were organising the buying and selling of drugs on a commercial scale. You had close links to the original source.

"You had the expectation of substantial financial advantage. Your actions helped to move the whole conspiracy along.

(Merseyside Police)

"You were in close association with Jabba and you were closely trusted by him. You were close to the source of importation.

"While below Jabba the Hutt, you were towards the top of the supply chain. This was an operation on a regional level."

Sweeney, of Heatherleigh Close, received seven-and-a-half years in May after admitting conspiracy to supply class A drugs. A total of £15,000 in cash was discovered at his address upon his arrest, including in the car boot - where a quantity of heroin was also found stashed in a gym bag.

Bowden could now be ordered to repay his ill-gotten gains under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Merseyside Police has welcomed the sentenced handed down by the courts.

Detective Sergeant James Boardman said: “The jailing of people who continue to peddle drugs and cause misery on the streets of Merseyside is continuing on an almost daily basis. Bowden and Sweeney both thought that they would evade police by using Encrochat.

"They were wrong, and now they will pay the price for their criminality. These drug dealers think they are above the law and can continue to ply their illicit trade and profit from their crimes.

"I am pleased that through detailed and thorough investigations we managed to secure evidence to put them both behind bars for a number of years. Our work to prevent such people from supplying illegal drugs to vulnerable people in our communities goes on, and others already charged are waiting to hear their fate in court."

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