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Cocaine kingpin dubbed ‘El Shepo’ drove around country selling drugs out the back of a Citroen Berlingo van

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A drugs kingpin nicknamed ‘El Shepo’ whose gang stretched across the country has been jailed for 25 years.

Ian Shepherd, 44, was described as the head of a nationwide drugs ring that supplied cocaine and heroin ‘on a commercial scale’ across the UK.

Manchester Crown Court heard that the organised crime group was based in Kirkby, Merseyside but stemmed far out wide across the country – including Manchester, Chester, Trafford and Salford.

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The gang’s activity between November 2018 and July 2019 was tracked by officers using automated number plate recognition (ANPR) evidence, phone cell-siting and surveillance.

Prosecutor Andy Scott told the court the activity included ‘many significant meetings and exchanges’ at locations including Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Darlington, Glasgow, London and Salford Quays.

A safe house based in Kirkby was also identified.

The majority of the activity involved Shephard and John Burkquest, 37, a courier who was jailed in August last year for his involvement in the organised crime group.

During the meetings, Shepherd would use a Citroen Berlingo van to travel the country while wearing a high-visibility vest as a cover to give the impression he was a tradesman.

Ian Shepherd

An undercover policeman was later able to purchase the Citreon Berlingo after Shepherd, of Galstone Close, Liverpool, put it up for sale.

Officers then identified that the vehicle had been modified to incorporate a hide in the rear compartment which was only accessible using an adapted wheel trim removal tool and was large enough to transport large quantities of drugs.

In February 2019, Burkquest was arrested by officers in Middlesborough.

The court heard how Shepherd attempted to call Burkquest ‘on a number of occasions’ while in custody.

On May 13, 2019, police executed a warrant at an address in Kirkby belonging to Shephard’s mother-in-law.

A quantity of cocaine and a firearm was found, which later confirmed a match with Shepherd’s DNA.

The court heard the cocaine was estimated to have a street value of around £1,613 while the handgun had been adapted to include a sound moderator and .38 automatic ammunition.

Officers also recovered a number of mobile phones and cash amounting to more than £2,000.

Analysis of mobile phones throughout the investigation showed Shepherd had also nicknamed himself ‘El Shepo’.

Shepherd was arrested on July 4, 2019 and made no comment to all questions when interviewed by police.

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Shepherd was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court

A later firearms search was conducted at another address in Kirkby in September 2019, where further weapons and ammunition was found.

A cache of bags was discovered in the loft of the property, which contained a revolver, a sawn-off shotgun, ammunition, and five ‘improvised’ explosive devices.

A controlled explosion of the devices later compared them to ‘low-grade fireworks’.

Shepherd initially pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin and the conspiracy to possess a firearm, a prohibited gun, ammunition, and explosives.

He later changed his plea two weeks before a trial was due to take place.

Peter Hunter, defending, said Shepherd, who has three children, had become involved in the organised crime group as a way to fund a house for his family.

Mr Hunter told the court: “He wants to apologise and show remorse.

“He wants there to be no excuses and he doesn’t want to blame others, but he knows he’s made a huge, huge mistake.”

Mr Hunter added: “He accepts he has played a leading role, but he wasn’t the head of this organised crime group. It’s obvious there are others involved.”

Judge Anthony Cross QC said there had been ‘tell-tale’ signs that Shepherd had played a leading role in the drugs gang.

“It is accepted that that group was led by you,” Judge Cross said.

“It was involved in the supply of cocaine and heroin on a commercial scale throughout the United Kingdom.

“It was truly the work of an organised crime group operating on a national scale.”

Addressing Shepherd, Judge Cross said: “Not only are you a man heavily involved in the supply of Class A drugs but you are also a man who is able to procure, possess and distribute firearms.

“I reject that you were simply someone who stored firearms.”

Judge Cross said there was ‘no evidence of any significant lifestyle’ gained from the drugs supply, however he said Shepherd’s involvement in the group was ‘perfectly clear’.

“You wish to apologise and you rightly accept there’s no excuse for your behaviour,” Judge Cross said.

He added: “This was extensive drug dealing. You were directing, organising and selling drugs on a commercial scale where there is an expectation of substantial, financial advantage.

“It is perfectly clear that you were closely linked to others of a like-mind in this country and Scotland.

“You did not have the sense to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity.

“You only pleaded guilty in the weeks leading to your trial. You knew you were guilty from the moment you were charged.”

Shepherd was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of Class A, conspiracy to possess a prohibited firearm, and three counts of possessing a prohibited firearm.

He also pleaded guilty to possessing a prohibited smooth-bore gun, possessing ammunition without a firearm certificate and possessing explosives.

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https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/cocaine-kingpin-dubbed-el-shepo-22705720