A ‘major league’ Sheffield drug dealer who ran a ‘substantial criminal empire’ from his luxury Thai mansion, dealing heroin and cocaine around the world, is today starting a 20-year jail term.
Craig Allen and four of his associates were yesterday locked up for a total of 61 years at Sheffield Crown Court.
Detectives said Allen – whose convictions date back to 1975, and who was cleared of the murder of music promoter Lester Divers in Walkley in 2003 – ‘thought he was above the law’.
But justice has finally caught up with the 50-year-old – dubbed ‘the ginger ninja’ and ‘little fella’ by accomplices.
Judge Paul Watson QC told Allen: “On any view, this was major league drugs supply.
“This was a substantial criminal empire, at the very top of which was you.”
Allen, who was brought up in Burngreave and Parson Cross, stood with his arms folded as Judge Watson told him he was living an ‘enviable lifestyle’ in Thailand with the profits.
“You had a number of people in this country who were only too keen to get in on the act and do their bit,” he added.
Leroy Grant, also 50, of Manchester, was described as Allen’s ‘senior partner’ and was jailed for 18 years, after being found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin after a trial.
O’Neil Richard Davidson, 36, of Stockport, received eight years, while Steven Hudson, 43, of Ellesmere Road, Burngreave, Sheffield, was given nine years.
Allen’s ex-partner, heroin addict Selena Nickels, 45, of Scotia Drive, Manor, was locked up for six years.
A sixth defendant, Brian Saunders, 48, is to be sentenced at a later date.
Judge Watson said the supply of drugs was a ‘vile trade’.
“As well as physical injury and misery to the end user, the supply of Class A drugs by organised crime groups spawns violent crime, as each gang goes in search of the highly lucrative rewards offered by the trade in illicit drugs,” he said.
“The violence can escalate to the most brutal and inhumane. The courts will do everything they can to extinguish this vile trade.”
DI Craig Jackson from South Yorkshire Police’s serious and organised crime unit said afterwards: “The sentencing draws to a conclusion a lengthy and complex investigation, and the relentless pursuit by South Yorkshire Police of Craig Allen and his criminal associates.
“Allen is a sophisticated international drug trafficker, who was directly responsible for the supply of Class A drugs to the streets of South Yorkshire and across the UK.
“The sentences reflect the seriousness of the crimes, and recognise the destructive impact of Class A drugs on our communities.”
Roger Woodward, Senior Crown Prosecutor at the CPS, added: “Craig Allen was an international criminal – the lynchpin of a global drugs conspiracy and one of the most significant drugs traffickers we have ever prosecuted. The case was the culmination of five different police operations – four in South Yorkshire and one in North Wales - which together generated over 4,000 pages of evidence.
“These revealed that Allen, operating from Thailand and then Amsterdam, and using 18 different mobile telephones to evade detection, was at the heart of a spider’s web of buyers, importers and suppliers of massive quantities of heroin and cocaine.
“During the course of the investigation, 22 kilos of drugs and almost half a million Euros were seized.
“And this was very likely to have been the tip of the iceberg.”
The capture of Craig Allen was the climax of a complex four-year police probe - Operation Yardley - with information taken from 15 separate investigations.
Detectives from South Yorkshire Police’s serious crime unit used covert techniques including surveillance and bugs in cars, homes and public telephone boxes, to record conversations between Allen and his associates.
They analysed data from 170 devices including computer hard drives and mobile telephones, unpicking an intricate web of communications between Allen and his associates.
Allen regularly swapped phones and used up to 18 Thai mobiles at once, such was his desire to avoid detection.
The charges he faced came from his involvement in five police operations.
Operation Montage – which had involved watches on Allen’s deputy, Leroy Grant, throughout April 2010 when he flew to Thailand and attended Allen’s wedding to his Thai bride – culminated the following month with the seizure of 17.5 kilos of heroin with a street value of £850,000 from a car on the M1 at Barnsley.
Throughout the day driver Luckwant Singh had been in contact with Allen and Leroy Grant.
Another operation, Operation Maggot, involved police observing Allen’s ex-partner Selena Nickels making drugs runs for Allen. She was seen on four occasions exchanging drugs and money in Manchester in the summer of 2010. One exchange involved O’Neil Davidson.
The prosecution said when Grant was jailed for other matters, Davidson took over his role.
In Operation Mustang, police saw Davidson hand over drugs in Manchester which were driven to Leppings Lane, Hillsborough, and given to Steven Hudson.
He was described as a ‘long term associate’ of Allen’s, and was seen at Lloyds bank in Sheffield wiring money to Thailand.
On April 4, 2011, officers arrested another man, Lionel Keepe, on the A57 Snake Pass, and seized four packets of heroin weighing 1.9 kilos, each bound for Sheffield.
The estimated wholesale value of the drugs was £64,000.
Operation Manifest involved a Sheffield drug dealer called James Flinders who lived in Dinnington. He was jailed for 23 years in 2012 after an eight- week trial.
Flinders laundered cash by spending large amounts renovating his luxury property, The Lodge on Lodge Lane, Dinnington, where even the dog kennel was centrally heated.
His stepbrother, Simon Dilkes, from Worksop, was given an eight-year sentence for being a drugs courier after he was stopped on the M1 between Chesterfield and Sheffield on November 24, 2010. Police seized 1.8 kilos of cocaine with a wholesale value of £110,000 from his car and Dilkes was arrested.
A bug put in Flinders’ car, and CCTV footage from his home, revealed he was in contact with Craig Allen.
The police seizure cost the drug dealers £110,000 and Allen had to pay off the supplier because they’d threatened to shoot Dilkes’ partner.
The final probe was Operation Boating, conducted by North Wales Police. On December 11, 2010, two drugs mules flew into Liverpool John Lennon Airport from Amsterdam with half a kilo of heroin hidden in their bodies.
Telephone analysis linked the pair to Allen’s contacts in North Wales. In one call Allen was heard to say he was worried about the authorities trying to ‘drag him back’.
Allen was arrested by armed police in Amsterdam last October, having moved there shortly before. When officers searched the flat he was staying in they found 500,000 Euros in notes and four kilos of Class A drugs.
Judge Watson commended the police investigation team for their dedication and attention to detail.
DI Craig Jackson, who led the investigation, said: “I think the perception is that men like Allen, who sit at the top of organised crime groups, are untouchable - but this case shows they are anything but. South Yorkshire Police has had significant success in dismantling groups linked to Allen, but our ultimate objective was always to repatriate him to the UK to face trial for his crimes.”
Factfile: The case in numbers
l 15 separate historic investigations demonstrated a link to Craig Allen
l 170 devices examined, including phones, computers and hard drives
l 14 arrests made
l Six detectives working on the investigation full time
l Six defendants charged and convicted
l 3,100 exhibits
l 11,000 items disclosed
l 407 analytical charts
l 51,000 pages of communications data analysed
l 11,874 different mobile phone numbers involved