Senior leader of Merseyside gang that shipped drugs between England and Scotland convicted

A high-ranking member of an organised crime group (OCG) that trafficked heroin and cocaine has been convicted following his extradition by the National Crime Agency.

Stephen Earle, 52, of Huyton, was arrested by the Polícia Judiciária Fugitive Team in Faro in January this year at the request of the NCA, and returned to the UK on 18 March.

He had travelled abroad in July 2020, and remained in the country to avoid capture after NCA officers apprehended fellow OCG members in March 2021.

Earle worked closely with his cousin Terence Earle, 50, who was jailed for 16-and-a-half years in April last year. The pair used the encrypted communications platform EncroChat to run the criminal enterprise, with the help of subordinates Stanley Feerick, 70, and Stephen King, 50.

Both men have also been sentenced for their part in the class A operation and the creation of an amphetamine lab in Scotland.

Terence and Stephen used the EncroChat handles ‘ThickBoar’ and ‘Octo-hand’ respectively, and discussed prices for buying and selling the drugs as well as the logistics of trafficking.

The pair shipped at least 10 kilos of heroin and seven kilos of cocaine, with the former moved from Merseyside to Motherwell and the latter in the opposite direction.

Stephen Earle pleaded guilty to four drugs supply charges at Liverpool Crown Court on 16 April and will be sentenced at the same court on 14 June 2024.

The NCA’s investigation formed part of Operation Venetic, the UK NCA-led law enforcement response to the takedown of the EncroChat service in July 2020.

NCA Branch Commander Charles Lee said, “Today’s guilty plea shows that there is no hiding place for criminals who seek to avoid arrest by living abroad.

“The NCA has the international reach to find you and make you pay for your crimes.

“Stephen Earle was an integral part of this dangerous criminal organisation, which posed a serious threat to communities across Scotland and Merseyside.

“The drugs they trafficked would have fuelled violence and exploitation in these areas, so bringing this criminal group to justice has helped protect the public.”

Image: Stephen Earle/NCA

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