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Drug boss Leon Cullen tells judge 'no problem' as he gets 22 and a half years

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 14/05/2021 Luke Traynor

One of the UK's most wanted men Leon Cullen was today finally put behind bars for spearheading a major gun and cocaine network - one of the most notorious in the northwest in recent history.

The 33-year-old fled abroad when he became aware police were about to strike and hid undetected for two years before he was finally captured in Dubai.

Cullen, who operated alongside his brother Anthony - who was jailed for 26 years in 2019 - was responsible for the supply of very high-purity cocaine, about 50kg in total.

Leon was in control of a startling arsenal of guns including a functioning AK-series rifle, a pump-action shotgun, automatic pistols and revolvers as well as a silencer that was fitted to one of the automatic handguns.

Those guns were found inside a house in Warrington where a mum and her young child lived, with weapons discovered in an ottoman and inside a loft.

Vehicles were used to transport the drugs, including a car which had a secret hide, which was controlled by a device linked to the cigarette lighter.

While Leon and his brother Anthony hailed from Warrington, they had substantial links to criminals in Liverpool including Lee Stoba, a drugs boss who ran his own illegal business while behind bars at HMP Altcourse in Fazakerley.

One of the Cullen guns, a 9mm self-loading pistol, was previously used in a shooting at a house on Rose Avenue, Bootle, when a round was fired into the curtained living room where the occupier was present, on August 20, 2015.

Today, Leon, previously of Honister Avenue in Orford, was jailed for 22 years and six months, slightly less than his brother, who was jailed two years ago.

As he was taken down, via a video-link to Manchester Prison, Cullen said: "Yeah, no problem, thank you."

He was still addressing the judge when the video-link was cut.

Judge Gary Woodhall told him: "You, together with your brother, were the heads of an organised crime group.

"Your business was the supply of wholesale quantities of high purity cocaine and dealings with weapons, including a lethal cache of firearms.

"This was a sophisticated, well planned, well prepared, successful, persistent criminal operation.

"The evidence indicates the conspiracy reached outside of the north west.

"Those at the head of the operation were criminally sophisticated."

Leon Cullen obtained a false passport and used it to flee abroad on January 10, 2018, leading to an international arrest warrant, and his eventual detention on January 2, last year.

He was extradited from the United Arab Emirates and brought back to Cheshire in February.

At an earlier hearing, Cullen admitted conspiracy to supply firearms, conspiracy to possess ammunition and conspiracy to supply cocaine.

The Cullens supplied high purity cocaine to customers in Liverpool, Winsford, north Wales, with also some evidence of dealings in the northeast, around Durham.

They used violence in order to intimidate and exert control towards those they believed had crossed them as well as to enforce debts.

Future Press Ltd, in Warrington town centre, was found to be a front business where money was laundered, and scarcely any legitimate trade took place there as several tens of kilograms were flooded across the country.

Police also seized a total of £205,680 cash and large seizures of cocaine during a series of strikes as part of the 18-month covert investigation.

Along with the drugs, Leon got involved in stockpiling guns and transferring them to associated and customers, one particular communication observed between him and an unnamed criminal in Liverpool.

letter: Drugs seized from the Cullen brothers © Cheshire Police Drugs seized from the Cullen brothers

The brothers, alongside right hand man Robert Bibby and "armourer" Chris Houghton, established a lucrative cocaine trafficking network on a scale more commonly associated with the highest echelons of Liverpool or Manchester's underworlds.

Their operation was effectively smashed when police raided a home in Rylands Drive, Warrington, where the alarming stash of guns were uncovered.

The haul was the biggest firearms seizure in Cheshire Police's history.

On July 27, 2017, five of the guns including ammunition were recovered hidden in the loft of a house on Rylands Drive in Warrington.

A further gun was found along with two bullets in a wicker basket at the foot of a bed, which was believed to be the replacement hand gun and ammunition to replace the gun recovered by police in an address in Oxford Street, Warrington, only 24 hours earlier.

The Cullens paid their accomplices good money if they felt they could trust them and if they did their bidding, and one gang member bragged over text that he would be "balls deep in money".

When the gang were sentenced in court in 2019, they received prison sentences totaling 185 years.

Leon, together with Anthony, supplied guns and drugs to customers and sent their henchmen to threaten customers and addicts who owed them a debt.

On one occasion, Sean Ryan drove to Crew, with two bullets, knocked on people's doors, and showed them the ammunition as a clear threat what would happen if they didn't pay up.

Later today, police stopped him in a car, and the bullets were on the front seat.

Judge Woodhall added: "This was a sustained and high level operation with substantial overheads and generating substantial profits.

"Substantial profit was the aim of the conspiracy.

"Your drug dealing shows complete disregard for the impact on our society.

"Drugs wreak havoc on people's lives, causing them to turn to crime themselves.

"You ignored or did not care about those consequences for financial reward.

"The [gun] cache was under the ultimate control of you and your brother.

"I'm satisfied that as one of the heads of the operation you must have had full knowledge of the arsenal.

"You were willing to use this resource in order to intimidate and frighten.

"You also anticipated the discharge of those weapons where necessary.

"You were undoubtedly at the top of the hierarchy, playing a leading role.

"You were a director, organiser and controller of the enterprise - relying on your notorious reputation as a means to further your business.

"You employed tactics to limit the chances of you being caught.

"You had the resources to evade the police and flee the country, where you remained at large for some time."

Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Inspector Mike Evans, from the Serious and Organised Crime Unit of Cheshire Police, said: “Leon operated a network that was wide spread and included the supply of cocaine and firearms to other organised crime groups across the North West.

“When he fled the country in 2018 a significant policing operation began that was built on information from the local community, along with other sensitive networks, that centred on uncovering the identity that he was using to travel.

“Once we knew the details of the false passport that had been sought to him from his associates it was then easy to narrow him down to the United Arab Emirates."

“Leon was the leader of the organised crime group alongside his brother Anthony but we know there are still people in the community who are close to him and are continuing his criminality.

“My message to those people is we will come for you."


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