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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Adam Everett

Heroin importer nicknamed himself after England striker he thought he looked like

A heroin importer gave himself a nickname inspired by his likeness to a former England footballer.

Anthony Bowden was jailed for 21 years on Friday in connection with a major class A drugs ring led by "Jabba the Hutt". The Merseyside-based organised crime group smuggled illicit substances into the UK from the Netherlands and also supplied millions of pounds of heroin and cocaine across the region.

The 40-year-old, of Lancer Way in West Derby, was one of the most trusted allies of the "head of the operation" - who used the handle JabbaTheHutt while operating on encrypted communications platform EncroChat. More than £30,000 of designer goods were seized from the personal trainer after his arrest, while he attempted to destroy a mobile phone by submerging it in a glass of water.

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And the ECHO can now reveal that a trial at Liverpool Crown Court previously heard how Bowden nicknamed himself "KP". This was due to his resemblance to ex-Premier League striker Kevin Phillips, a golden boot winner and eight-time international who turned out for the likes of Sunderland, Aston Villa, Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Southampton and Watford during a career spanning from the early 1990s until 2014.

The dealer is no stranger to the criminal underworld though. Bowden was previously jailed for four years back in 2012 after admitting conspiracy to supply cocaine in connection with another gang, which provided its bosses with remarkably lavish lifestyles.

This operation's key figures splashed the cash on luxury cars, expensive watches, extravagant holidays, hot tubs and mansions before police recovered more than 40kg of heroin and cocaine and monies totalling nearly £1m. Surveillance on the OCG began in late 2010 when "top lieutenant" Peter McGhee was observed making trips to Malaga, Amsterdam and Geneva.

Prosecutors said those jaunts had the purpose of arranging drug deals with foreign counterparts for both heroin and cocaine that would eventually find its way to Merseyside. The conspiracy also had links with Newcastle, Carlisle and Scotland.

Among the other items seized by officers was a silenced and loaded automatic pistol. McGhee was able to buy an "imposing" six-bedroom home on the Pottery in Melling thanks to the ill-gotten proceeds.

While under observation he was seen driving three Audis, two BMWs and 16 different Mercedes with a combined value of £715,521. And police were held up by an armoured door when they executed a search warrant at his house.

McGhee was seen throwing £40,000 in cash out of a window during this raid, while he was wearing a £26,000 wristwatch at the time. This was despite HMRC records showing that he had not worked since 2005.

Meanwhile another "senior figure", Steve Nicholls, was able to enjoy holidays in the Maldives and the Caribbean, as well as at five star hotels in New York City. His involvement funded a £40,000 deposit on his house on Uppingham Avenue in Aintree and cosmetic dentistry work.

Jailing Bowden again this week, 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."

Liverpool Crown Court heard that the Jabba the Hutt gang was involved in the supply of more than 84kg of heroin and 17kg of cocaine. Of this amount, they 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 boss. He "was closely trusted by" Jabba and "played a leading role" in the conspiracy, organising the purchase and sale of drugs "on a commercial scale" and arranged for couriers to transport the illicit substances.

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