Published: Tuesday 13th July 2021

Members of an organised crime group who flooded the Chester area with heroin and crack cocaine have been jailed for a total of 43-and-a-half years.

James Bolland, Daniel Rubert, Kyle Byrne, Dylan Griffiths, Sean Roddy, Stephen Clarke, Anthony Skyner, David Young, Graham Mallon, Zahra O’Bad, Carl Henderson and Paul Williamson have all been sentenced following a six-month investigation into the large scale supply of class A drugs from Merseyside.

The investigation revealed that a county lines drug dealing gang, who called themselves The Johnno Team, were using pay-as-you-go mobile phones to send flare text messages to known drug users in the Chester area.

The messages informed addicts and other drug users of when and where they could buy class A drugs from the gang.

Drug runners were used to transport crack cocaine and heroin to the Chester area from Merseyside.

In addition, vulnerable people living in the Chester area were coerced into letting their homes be used as bases for class A drug dealing, which is a criminal practice known as cuckooing.

On Thursday 25 April 2019 these properties and the known homes of the gang members were raided by the team leading the investigation at Chester Local Policing Unit (LPU), with support from Merseyside Police.

Significant quantities of illegal drugs and cash were seized during the dawn raids in the Chester, Liverpool and St Helens areas.

The officers who executed the warrants also seized a number of mobile phones belonging to members of The Johnno Team.

Analysis of the phones and cell site data helped to build up a picture of group’s sophisticated criminal enterprise, as did ANPR and CCTV footage.

The extensive evidence gathered showed that Bolland, 27, Rubert, 28, Byrne, 29, and Griffiths, 26, had leading roles in the team, managing the operation.
Bolland was the main ringleader.

Roddy, 54, O’Bad, 28, Henderson, 30, and Williamson, 55, were responsible for driving the vehicles that were used to transport the drugs and other members of the group to the Chester area.

The role of Clarke, 48, Skyner, 31, Young, 21, and Mallon, 56, was to hand over the drugs to users in the Chester area and collect the cash.

Bolland, who lived in Higher Parr Street, St Helens; Rubert, who lived in Noble Close, Saltney, Chester; Byrne, who lived on Barrymore Road, Liverpool; Griffiths, who lived on Oakfield Road, Liverpool; Clarke, who lived in Lorenzo Drive, Liverpool; Skyner, who had no fixed address; Mallon, who lived on Blacon Point Road, Chester; and Young, who lived in Stanley Street, Liverpool; all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin and crack cocaine.

Rubert also admitted possessing cannabis with intent to supply the class B drug.

He also pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice in relation to him falsely reporting to the police that two men wearing balaclavas had threatened him and stolen his girlfriend’s car. He was in fact inside the vehicle when it crashed into a parked car on Victoria Road in Saltney, Chester, on Wednesday 27 June 2018. Following the collision, he fled the scene on foot.

Bolland, Rubert, Byrne, Griffiths, Clarke, Skyner and Young were all sentenced between Wednesday 24 June and Friday 26 June 2020.

Roddy, who lived on Lynwood Road, Blacon, Chester, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin and crack cocaine but was convicted of the offence following a three-day trial. He was sentenced on Friday 13 November 2020 and has since died in prison.

O’Bad, of Dove Road, Mexborough, Yorkshire; Henderson, of Trafalgar Road, Wallasey, Merseyside; and Williamson, of Park Avenue, Saughall, Chester; pleaded guilty to lesser charges, which were accepted by the prosecution.

Those charges were being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine in the case of O’Bad and encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence in the case of Henderson and Williamson.

The trio were sentenced on Friday 27 November 2020.

Mallon, who was caught in possession of 42 wraps of heroin and cocaine when he was arrested, was sentenced on Thursday 8 July 2021.

All 12 offenders were sentenced at Chester Crown Court.

The sentences they received were:

  • Bolland: Eight years in prison
  • Rubert: Seven years in prison
  • Byrne: Five years in prison
  • Griffiths: Four years and nine months in prison
  • Roddy: Four years and six months in prison
  • Clarke: Four years in prison
  • Skyner: Four years in prison
  • Young: Three years and six months in a young offenders’ institution
  • Mallon: Two years and nine months in prison
  • O’Bad: A suspended prison sentence of one year and six months
  • Henderson: A suspended prison sentence of one year and six months
  • Williamson: A suspended prison sentence of one year and six months.

Bolland was also handed a 10-year Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO), which prohibits him from associating with any of the other 10 offenders, going to the Chester area, forcing or coercing anyone to allow him into or to stay at their home, possessing a mobile phone which is not registered in his name and possessing more than one mobile phone at any one time.

Detective Inspector Nick Henderson, of Chester LPU, said:

“Class A drugs and those who supply them blight our communities, causing untold damage to both those who use them and the wider society who suffer from the resulting crime.

“As such, cutting off supplies of illegal drugs and removing drug dealers from our communities is of paramount importance.

“In the case of the Merseyside-based organised crime croup who refereed to themselves as The Johnno Team, they were flooding the Chester area with heroin and crack cocaine.

“Their sophisticated criminal enterprise incorporated pay-as-you-go mobile phones, flare text messages, drug runners and using the homes of vulnerable residents to sell, supply or store drugs.

“Acting like a business with each member having a defined role, the group systematically exploited vulnerable people for financial gain and had no regard for the law.

“Thankfully, the team at Chester LPU were able to gather a mountain of intelligence and evidence against The Johnno Team and uncover the extent of the operation and the roles that each member were playing.

“The convictions secured and the sentences handed out by Chester Crown Court are the results of a long and complex proactive investigation, which included a series of raids being conducted simultaneously in the Chester and Merseyside areas.

“It also involved suspects and vehicles that were not located during the dawn raids being subsequently intercepted.

“We hope that this case sends out a clear message that county lines drug dealing and all other forms of serious and organised crime will not be tolerated in Chester or anywhere else in Cheshire.”

A county line sees organised crime groups use mobile phones, known as a ‘line’ or a ‘graft’, to extend their criminal enterprise into new locations, usually from a city into rural areas.

They often target vulnerable people, including children and disabled people, to facilitate their drug dealing operation.

Chief Inspector Mike Ankers, also of Chester LPU, said: 

“I would like to thank all of the officers and staff involved in the extensive investigation for the dedication and commitment they have shown to dismantle this organised crime group and make the 12 offenders face the consequences of their actions.

“There is misery behind every drug deal.

“We do extensive work with our partners to break the cycle of serious and organised crime and protect vulnerable people who are the victims of criminal enterprises.

“I hope that this case reassures communities that we are committed to doing all we can to tackle this type of criminality.

“I also hope that it deters other organised crime groups from trying to operate here.

“As this case show, Cheshire is not an easy target for such groups. It is, and will remain, a hostile place for criminals.”

Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire John Dwyer added: 

“This is another example of the sterling work being done by Cheshire Constabulary to disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups and help the victims of drug dealing enterprises.

“I can’t praise the team at Chester LPU enough for their work to secure these convictions.

“I would like to assure the people of Cheshire that this type of proactive police work will continue to help keep them safe in line with one of my key priorities of protecting vulnerable people.”

DI Henderson said: 

“To aid our fight against serious and organised crime we need members of the public to be our eyes and ears and to come forward with information regarding drug dealing in their communities.

“If something doesn’t look right or doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right.

“You will be listened to and we will investigate the matter, and victims of cuckooing will be safeguarded.

“Together we can help to keep vulnerable people and our communities safe.”

Suspected drug dealing activity can be reported to Cheshire Constabulary directly by calling 101 or via https://www.cheshire.police.uk/ro/report.

If you do not feel comfortable speaking to the police, you can give information anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.