Sheffield men jailed for five decades for transporting guns, cash and drugs worth £25m to gangs nationwide
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Appearing via video link, Archie McNeil and Neil Murray remained silent as Judge Peter Kelson QC jailed the pair for a combined total of five decades for their nationwide criminal operation, which was based out of a specially-adapted premises at Loxley Road, Hillsborough.
During an August 26 sentencing hearing, Hull Crown Court heard how that among the criminal property transported to organised crime groups (OCG) by Murray and McNeil’s enterprise was a firearm that Murray picked up from Bradford and took to Liverpool to give to an OCG.
Judge Kelson told the he regarded this crime in particular to be ‘desperately serious,’ especially given the fatal shooting of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool on Monday, August 22, in which a balaclava-clad man believed to be linked to an OCG in the city forced his way into the schoolgirl’s house while chasing an intended target.
He said: “Both of you knew this was a gun; both of you knew it was going to be used by an OCG with possibly fatal consequences; both of you were in it for the money and both of you – at the very least – did not care what it was used for.”
Prosecuting barrister, Ben Campbell, told the court how when police raided the Loxley Road premises in December 2020 they found hidden compartments and fake walls made out of plaster boards, with contraband including firearms and ammunition concealed inside. It is believed the compartments had also previously been used to conceal both Class A drugs such as cocaine, and the Class B drug, cannabis.
Mr Campbell described how over the course of around a year in 2020, Murray and McNeil’s criminal enterprise transported around 987kg of cocaine, with an estimated value of between nearly £29.5million and £44million, to OCGs located across the country.
He said the defendants are likely to have made between £200,000 and £500,000 for their involvement in transporting the cocaine.
In addition to acting as a criminal courier service, Mr Campbell said the criminals behind the operation also stored drugs and guns for OCGs, both from the Loxley Road premises, and in Murray’s case, in his home address at Erskine Crescent, Arbourthorne.
To prevent their offending from being uncovered, the duo also adapted a variety of different vehicles to include hidden compartments in which they stored the contraband items that were taken across the country for a fee.
Mr Campbell said McNeil’s role was to arrange the drop-offs and the ‘rendezvous details,' while Murray, aged 61, acted as the courier, travelling the ‘length and breadth of the country’.
“Then he would be in contact with Mr Murray, instructing him where to go,” Mr Campbell told the court.
The court heard how Murray and McNeil’s offending was uncovered by South Yorkshire Police using an encrypted messaging service called EncroChat, which was used by McNeil and Murray to communicate with each other and to arrange drop-offs with OCGs.
Among the incriminating messages retrieved by the force were ones sent to Murray, who used the handle ‘El Chappy’ seemingly referring to former Mexican drug cartel kingpin El Chapo, in one conversation discussing the transportation of a ‘Glock’ firearm, and in another, instructing him to take £150,000 in cash to a user with the screen name John 1.
“It's plain there were substantial quantities of cash being transported, the same for cannabis,” Mr Campbell said.
Mr Campbell said that while quantities of cocaine were regularly discussed in EncroChat messages, officers found it harder to decipher the exact quantities of cannabis, referred to as ‘garden’ and cash or ‘paper,’ that were transported.
The pair were arrested, and their Sheffield premises and home addresses were searched, after Murray was stopped while driving a Ford Transit van in Gloucester on December 10, 2020.
Despite initially denying the crimes both McNeil, aged 41, of Old Hay Close, Dore and Murray, of Erskine Crescent, Arbourthorne pleaded guilty after their trial had started.
McNeil pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of Class A, conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of Class, conspiracy to transfer criminal property, conspiracy to transfer prohibited weapons, possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of a firearm without a certificate
Murray pleaded guilty to charges of charges of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of Class A, conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of Class B, conspiracy to transfer criminal property and conspiracy to transfer prohibited weapons.
Defending McNeil, Mohammed Ayaz Qazi, said: “What Mr McNeil has effectively done is provide a service, a transport service, as glorified as it is.”
Mr Ayaz Qazi added that McNeil has used has time on remand as an opportunity to develop and improve himself, which is to ‘his credit’ and told Judge Kelson he may regard it as an indication of his prospect of rehabilitation.
Andrew Stranex, representing Murray, said his client was on the ‘bottom layer’ of the criminal enterprise, merely did as he was instructed, and fell into the role after his former, legitimate employment came to an end.
He added: “He’s sorry, not only for his offending, but also because he knows the dreadful impact it has had on his family.”
Judge Kelson jailed McNeil for 30 years, and Murray for 20 years.