A Wirral man has been jailed for 24 years after being found guilty of involvement in an injury shooting, conspiracy to sell prohibited weapons and playing a significant role in the supply of large quantities of Class A and B drugs.
John Lewis, aged 23, of Woodchurch was found guilty of conspiracy to sell weapons, namely a Taurus Special 38 revolver, a Skorpion Machine Pistol and a Mannlicher 9mm semi-automatic pistol, at a trial at Liverpool Crown Court and was sentenced today (Thursday 28 September 2023).
Lewis was also found guilty of conspiring with David Delap to supply cocaine, heroin, and cannabis following an investigation by detectives involved in Operation Venetic – an international investigation into the use of a mobile encryption service, commonly referred to as Encrochat.
He was arrested in September 2020, after Merseyside Police detectives identified he was using the Encrochat handle ‘blazebat’ after he revealed personal data about himself including the postcode for his home address, the date he passed his driving test, his son’s birthday and his own birthday.
During the trial it was revealed that between the Encrochat capture period of March 2020 to May 2020, Lewis agreed to sell firearms and played a large role in the conspiracy to supply drugs across Merseyside, North Wales, and the South-West along with a person using the username ‘santashelper’ who was found to be David Delap, aged 34, of Wirral.
Delap pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs at an earlier trial and was also sentenced today at Liverpool Crown Court where he received a jail term of five-and-a-half years.
A jury took less than two hours to unanimously find Lewis guilty of all charges on August 24, 2023.
Lewis was also sentenced today for another offence involving an injury shooting close to the Shell garage on Borough Road, Birkenhead on 26 November 2019 for which he received 16 years bringing his total to 24 years. He was additionally ordered to serve a further five years on licence after being determined to be a dangerous offender.
The victim of the shooting was a passenger in a Ford Fiesta when they were followed on to the forecourt of the Shell garage by four offenders on two motorbikes.
The pillion passenger of a Yamaha motorbike approached the car and made several shots from a 9mm self-loading pistol resulting in the victim needing hospital treatment for three gunshot wounds.
Lewis was subsequently identified as being the rider of a Suzuki motorbike. Both motorbikes were witnessed travelling at excessive speeds throughout Wirral and were later found abandoned in a wooded area of Willaston.
Following a trial at Liverpool Crown Court in June 2022, Lewis was found guilty of Section 18 wounding, possession of a firearm and ammunition without a certificate.
Connor Chapman, aged 23, of Woodchurch was also charged in connection with firearms offences but was found not guilty.
The incident was believed to be related to a long-running dispute between OCG members of the Woodchurch and Beechwood/Ford estates.
On sentencing His Honour Judge Driver KC said, “This was a very serious crime in which you were fully engaged from beginning to end. I am in no doubt at all that you are a dangerous offender. Nothing less than an extended determinate sentence would be sufficient to protect the public from that risk.”
Senior Crown Prosecutor Leigh-Ann Wardman, of CPS Mersey Cheshire’s Complex Casework Unit said, “John Lewis is a dangerous and long-term criminal who is heavily involved in organised crime and the dark world of drugs and firearms.
“He distributed drugs on a commercial scale and either sold or transferred lethal firearms, including a Skorpion sub-machine gun, to make even more money for himself.
“Delap was not involved in drugs supply to the same extent as Lewis but phone evidence shows that they were working together to distribute drugs.
“Lewis was also involved in the shooting of a man within yards of children leaving their primary school for the day. He clearly has no regard for the safety of anyone and is a reckless ruthless criminal. He has now been given a very substantial jail term.
“Men like Lewis and Delap bring misery, crime and violence to our communities. The Crown Prosecution Service works with the police to tackle organised crime and bring those involved to justice.”
Local policing Chief Inspector Duncan Swan, one of the senior officers in EVOLVE Wirral, added, “Encrochat messages clearly revealed Lewis’s leading involvement in drug conspiracies that have caused suffering to families and residents in our community and others across the UK.
“We know the destruction that drug supply causes and the serious violence that goes hand in hand with such criminality.
“Merseyside Police remains relentless in our pursuit of these criminals using all the powers and legislation available to us to stop the scourge of organised crime groups and we are working hard with our partners in EVOLVE Wirral to regenerate the areas that have been blighted by gangs.
“Like many offenders before him, Lewis thought he was hiding behind a secure communications system.
“Instead, he collected overwhelming incriminating evidence of his criminality and will face a long time in prison.
“We hope today’s sentencing of both Delap and Lewis sends a strong message to those involved in drugs supply and the use of weapons that we will find you and we will put you behind bars.”
Image: Merseyside Police