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Chemists recruited from China for Winwick drug lab jailed
8:33am Friday 15th March 2013 in News
TWO men were recruited from China to work as chemists to produce an 'industrial scale' of amphetamine in a laboratory in Winwick.
And yesterday at Warrington Crown Court five men were jailed for their role in the plot to make drugs worth a street value of more than £5.6 million.
Head of the group Jonathan Buckley, aged 56, who is originally from Liverpool but had been residing in Thailand, returned to the UK to manage the venture.
He brought across Jicheng Zhang and Yongan Hu from a company in Shanghai to act as consultants in the laboratory at an industrial unit at Craven Court, Mill Lane.
Criminal associates Richard Pheby, aged 53, from Middlewich, and Paul Preston, aged 42, from Newton-le-Willows, helped set up the laboratory and collecting chemicals which had been imported from China.
Officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) arrested all five men in August 2012.
The gang pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of amphetamine.
Judge David Hale sentenced Buckley to seven years, Pheby to five years and four months and Preston to five years. Chemists Zhang and Hu received three years each.
Steve Baldwin, SOCA’s regional head of investigations, said: “This crime group posed a clear risk to public safety as they were planning to produce amphetamine on an industrial scale. They had already received an order worth over £5 million and talked of setting up a bigger lab to cope with the demand. We had been watching their every move though and intervened before any drugs reached the streets.”
The method the crime group was going to use to make the drug has not been detected in the UK or Europe before. Buckley had previously travelled to China where the two experienced chemists had given him a demonstration.
He then sponsored their visa applications to come to the UK to supervise the setting up of the lab equipment and to show the others how to make the process successful.
Officers recovered 100 kilos of sodium 2-oxo-3 phenylglycidate when they searched the laboratory.
This amount, when mixed with other chemicals and adulterated, would have made 135 kilos of amphetamine with a street value of £270,000.
The crime group had also received an order for 250 litres of BMK which would have produced 568 kilos of amphetamine with a street value of over £5.6million.
Steve Baldwin added: “Buckley and his associates wrongly thought they could evade the authorities by importing a pre-precursor chemical. Other criminals who are tempted to do the same should think again because SOCA will track you down and put you before the courts.”