AS Andrew Daniels sat behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Transporter van packed with £20million of cocaine, only a few miles away from his destination, he must have thought he was home and dry.

An alcoholic, he had spent most of the trip home to Warrington from Kent downing cans of Strongbow Dark Fruit.

Sat next to him as he drove along the fast lane of the M6 was Jamie Simpson, head of the operation.

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Jamie Simpson

And tailing them in a Nissan Qashqai were Clare Smith – only a week away from getting married to fiancé Jamie Winterburn – and 37-year-old Dean Brettle from Howley, who had been used as muscle for loading the drugs onto the van.

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Dean Brettle

Within moments, all four were face down on the motorway – each facing jail sentences of between six and 11-and-a-half years.

Travelling between junction 19 at Knutsford and junction 20 at Lymm, the van and car were suddenly flanked by four unmarked police cars and boxed in against the central reservation.

Cheshire Police sources say that 41-year-old Daniels, perhaps so startled or so drunk, actually soiled himself at the moment of his downfall.

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Andrew Daniels

Despite being head of a gang that was transporting the largest haul of drugs ever recovered in the country, other than those seized at the UK’s borders, Simpson had never been in any kind of serious trouble with the police before.

The 31-year-old, from Padgate, ran a business with his partner offering bouncy castles for hire, as well as the likes of chocolate fountains and candy floss machine for events or celebrations.

After their arrest, he and his associates maintained that they had been down south in order to buy a bouncy castle.

At the same time, officers searching the two vehicles uncovered hidden compartments under the van’s floor with 186kg of cocaine – at a purity of 94 per cent – inside.

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Hidden compartments beneath the floor of the van

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Every kilo would have been bought at wholesale for between £30,000 and £50,000, but had a street value of £300,000 each.

Police had in fact been tailing the group for the whole of Thursday, August 2 2018 – having become aware of the gang during Operation Dreadnought, a covert investigation into Simpson’s friend and criminal ally Jamie Oldroyd.

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Jamie Oldroyd

Surveillance had captured the pair meeting up for coffee, with Simpson supply ‘having the ability to source and move large amount of drugs’ and Oldroyd being keen to purchase such materials.

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Simpson, Smith, Daniels and Brettle met up on a petrol station forecourt at around 4am that day and drove for roughly four hours to an industrial estate garage in Orpington.

There, they made arrangements for what was to happen next before moving on to Rochester Pier.

Here, they loaded the millions of pounds worth of cocaine in boxes from a boat which had travelled across the English Channel and along the River Medway – unhindered by border controls or CCTV.

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They returned to Orpington to stash the drugs into the secret compartments before making their ill-fated journey back to Warrington.

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Jamie Simpson being arrested on the M6

For Winterburn, the wedding was off – his fiancée having been nicked only days before the wedding.

But worse was to come.

Smith, from Padgate, had embarked on a number of runs to Scotland and the south of England in which it is believed the 36-year-old trafficked large amounts of drugs or cash, being paid around £3,000 per trip.

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Clare Smith

This money – totalling more than £21,000 in all – was then placed into 47-year-old Winterburn’s bank account, leading to him being jailed for three years and four months for money laundering.

READ > The car wash workers and middle-class kids who became convicted drug dealers

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Jamie Winterburn

Smith herself was given eight years and nine months behind bars, Simpson got 11 years and six months, Orford man Daniels was caged for eight years and six months and Brettle will spend the next six years in prison.

Detective chief inspector Mike Evans from Cheshire Police’s serious and organised crime unit said: “It was clearly a highly-sophisticated operation, and they had spent a significant amount of money in order to achieve what they did.

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“Jamie Simpson was arrogant and thought he was untouchable.

“It’s a common trend whenever we deal with these organised crime groups – they share the belief that they won’t be caught and they have a complete disregard in the communities in which they live and operate.

“Anyone who cares about their own families or communities wouldn’t be bringing out the level of crime or the fear of violence that these individuals are associated with.”

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