Brothers who used parents' house to store drugs among gang jailed over cocaine operation

Clockwise from top left: James Murphy, Victoria Harding, David Murphy and Christian Winter
Clockwise from top left: James Murphy, Victoria Harding, David Murphy and Christian Winter

Four drug dealers who tried to flood Wearside with high purity cocaine have been jailed for a total of more than 30 years.

Brothers David and James Murphy received 10 years and six years respectively after they used their parents' house in Houghton to store and prepare drugs.

David Murphy

David Murphy

Christian Winter, described as a trusted lieutenant, was given 12 years for 'taking care of business' while those higher up the chain were away, and for allowing his house in South Shields to be used as a safe house for the storage of drugs paraphernalia.

Mother of four - including a one-year-old baby - Victoria Harding was given three years and six months for operating one of a number of safe houses used by the gang.

Two lower level street dealers, Calvin Owen and Christopher Binks, were each given suspended sentences after Teesside Crown Court heard both men had pleaded guilty, and both had taken steps to turn away from their involvement in drugs.

One of the ringleaders, Andrew Blake, 41, of Regent Court, South Hetton, was present in court but could not be sentenced with the rest of his gang for legal reasons.

Christian Winter

Christian Winter

All of the defendants were convicted of conspiracy to supply class A drugs between March, 2014, and June, 2015.

Owens, Harding, and Binks, were given reduced sentences for pleading guilty.

The others were convicted after a trial earlier this year.

Andrew Blake's father, 77-year-old Thomas Blake of Jubilee Square, South Hetton, was given 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, for concealing criminal property.

James Murphy

James Murphy

The court heard when his house was raided by police he was caught stuffing £14,000 cash in his pocket.

Another £100,000 of cocaine contaminated cash was found in a concealed compartment under a chest of drawers.

Prosecutor Peter Makepeace QC, told the court the gang was rounded up in an intelligence-led Durham Police operation codenamed Sidra.

"The operation centred on the wholesale, multi-kilo supply of import purity cocaine to the North Durham and Sunderland area," said Mr Makepeace.

Victoria Harding

Victoria Harding

"Andrew Blake headed a network that sourced import quality cocaine, which was distributed by couriers and dealers including Owens and Binks.

"The leaders were assisted by trusted lieutenants such as Winter, who with others, including James and David Murphy and Victoria Harding, collected, stored, and distributed the product.

"In some cases they provided safe houses to facilitate the collection, storage and distribution."

Winter, 51, of Osbourne Avenue, South Shields, was described as 'lonely and pathetic' by Judge Deborah Sherwin when she passed his 12-year sentence.

David Murphy, 38, of Avonmouth Road, Sunderland, was sentenced to 10 years.

James Murphy, 40, of Princess Street, Houghton, received six years, and Victoria Harding, 32, of Fletcher Crescent, Houghton, was given three years and six months.

Calvin Owens, 27, of The Crescent, Houghton, and Christopher Binks, 32, of Station Avenue South, Fencehouses, were each given two years, suspended for two years, and 240 hours of community work.

Judge Sherwin told the defendants: "Taking a line of cocaine is sometimes seen as socially acceptable.

"The reality is the supply of cocaine is a foul business, using the drug is addictive, and there is a large amount of criminal money made from it.

"As this case has shown, users get into debt and then become dealers to repay that debt, and so the cycle spirals."

A hearing on a date to be fixed will determine if any of the defendants has any assets that can be seized as the proceeds of crime.