TWO men have been jailed for their different roles in helping transport an estimated 1,000 kilos of cannabis into the country during the coronavirus lockdown.

Stephen Gamble and Darren Finch were sentenced at Reading Crown Court yesterday (April 4) to five years and six and a half years respectively.

The court heard that 52-year-old Gamble, of Oriental Road, Ascot, played a ‘leading role’ by using his skills and expertise in importation paperwork from his previous legitimate business to import the drugs.

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He would ‘clone’ existing businesses by creating a similar name and then faking documentation from the business importing goods related to their services.

Finch, also 52, of Silvan Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, played more of a ‘middleman’ role by putting drug suppliers in touch with Gamble.

The pair were arrested by police after their chat logs from a communication service called EncroChat were discovered. The service was compromised and shut down by forces earlier this year - it was used primarily by organized crime members to plan criminal activities.

Prosecuting, Tim Probert-Wood said that in 2020, Gamble was involved in importing cannabis from Spain under the business name ‘Byhurst Farm Sites Ltd’ which was a clone of the existing business ‘Byhurst Farms Services Ltd’.

About eight kilos of cannabis was transported amongst horse feed which was the ‘cover load’. Up to 22 importations were made with March 2022 being the last order which had up to 80 kilos in each load.

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He added that in May 2020, there was a conspiracy to transport ketamine from China with a ‘cover load’ of magnesium stearate.

Gamble cloned a nutrition company to file the paperwork and about 100 kilos was proposed. However, the importation was not carried out.

Gamble would communicate on EncroChat under the name ‘Mighty Fighter’ with Finch under the name ‘Modest Builder’.

Finch was alone found to be involved in the proposed importation of cocaine. There was a 250g deal but the court heard there was no actual importation.

The 52-year-old was also in breach of a serious crime prevention order for similar offences imposed in 2017 after Finch had served a 12 month sentence.

Defending Gamble, Patrick Gibbs said the 52-year-old’s business had been impacted by covid and made a ‘terrible criminal decision’ in ‘rather extraordinary circumstances’.

Sentencing the pair, Judge Emma Nott said: “[Gamble], you brought in kilo after kilo of cannabis. Whether it’s 1,000 kilos or 2,000 kilos, you didn’t know and you didn’t care.

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“This marks a significant all from grace for you. [Finch], what you were really was a fixer. You form a middleman, putting the man with the drugs in contact with he man with the knowhow of how to get it into the country.”