A cocaine boss was shot on his doorstep over debt to an underworld crime queen dubbed ‘The Banker’ after police seized £20million of his drugs in the UK’s biggest-ever land seizure, a court has heard.
Liverpool brothers John and Alan Tobin sold vast amounts of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ketamine to notorious gangs across the country backed by their ‘enforcer’, ex-cage fighter Robbie ‘The Bear’ Broughton.
But their ‘highly profitable’ business was dealt a fatal blow when police seized a van, containing 186kg of 90 per cent pure cocaine, on the M6 in August 2018.
It can now be revealed that debts to a mystery figure known only as ‘The Banker’ led to John Tobin, 40, being shot outside his home in Prescot last year.
Nicola Daley, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court that by March that year the Tobins were struggling with ‘large debts’ which ‘might not be a surprise’ given ‘they had lost 186kg of drugs’.
She said: ‘In particular John Tobin was being put under some pressure to pay other people, it may be for wages he hadn’t been able to pay out to them for other jobs. He had been put under pressure to sell his own personal belongings to pay these amounts.’
Some of the Tobins’ trade was revealed in the hack of the phone network EncroChat as part of Operation Venetic, which showed how John Tobin who went by the name ‘SlightDrake’ on his encrypted device, often sent instructions via his older brother Alan, 52, aka ‘CapeRocket’, to Broughton, aka ‘NovaBear’.
Holding discussions between March and May 2020 about 73kg of heroin, 83kg of cocaine, 57kg of ketamine and 78kg of cannabis, they were instructed to contact someone known only as ‘The Banker’.
The drug ring was taken down on September 9 last year when police raided the gang’s homes to arrest those involved.
But their ‘highly profitable’ business was dealt a fatal blow when police seized a van, containing 186kg of 90 per cent pure cocaine, on the M6 in August 2018
Liverpool brothers John (left) and Alan Tobin (right) sold vast amounts of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ketamine to notorious gangs across England, Wales and Scotland
John Tobin was shot in the Brook Road estate in Prescot on February 6, 2020
What is the ‘EncroChat’ smartphone system used by the mafia to move money, drugs and order murders
EncroChat was a secret platform where users were able to communicate privately between specially-designed handsets – often to run drugs, traffick people and even order murders.
These devices, costing £1,500, are usually Android-based smartphones that had their GPS sensors, microphones, and cameras stripped out, encrypted chat apps installed by default to allow people to sent private messages.
It is now emerging that criminal syndicates across the world had one – with one in six of the 60,000 users in the UK.
Marketed as the electronic equivalent of two people having a conversation in an empty room, it enabled users to send written messages or make voice calls through an encrypted system.
There were thought to be 60,000 users internationally, including 10,000 in the UK, with prices at £1,500 for a six-month contract.
The National Crime Agency said the handset could also be wiped remote.
Court documents state that debt collector Broughton sometimes then relayed messages from ‘The Banker’ back to the Tobins.
Ms Daley told the court ‘The Banker’ was believed to be a woman, who was acting as an accountant in the underworld drug trade.
Broughton, 38, from St Helens, was a close associate of the Tobins, but evidence suggested that because John Tobin owed ‘The Banker’ a ‘significant sum’, the MMA heavyweight was ‘engaged to try to pull that money in and make contact with John Tobin’.
It was suggested John Tobin sell some watches or jewellery, but he pointed out police had already seized a large amount of it, when his home was searched after he was shot.
The Liverpool Echo reported how on the evening of February 6 last year, a 39-year-old man turned up at hospital with a gunshot wound after being targeted on a new housing estate.
Neighbours heard a series of shots being fired in the area around Manor Road – the suspected shooting scene on the Brook Road estate in Prescot – at around 8.30pm. The victim of that shooting was John Tobin.
Jason Smith, defending John Tobin, told the court his client was shot as part of a series of threats and intimidation by those higher up the drug trade.
He said: ‘In many ways the starting point to my primary submission is this – in early 2020, John Tobin was shot and it followed that there were a number of threats made against him and a number of forceful requests for money from him.
‘It demonstrates quite clearly that there were others above him, who were influencing him – others higher up the chain, others involved directly in the importation of Class A drugs.
‘There has been an important observation by the Crown that John Tobin was not involved in the importation of Class A drugs.’
Mr Smith said he did not dispute that his client was operating on a ‘commercial scale’ and obviously for financial gain, but said this was solely within the UK.
He said: ‘There were others above them in the chain who weren’t just influencing them, but were intimidating and attacking them.’
The lawyer conceded that the weight of personal mitigation in such a case was ‘limited’, but told the court: ‘There is remorse – there is a huge impact upon his family and his young child.
‘His opportunity to see his child grow up is limited. This is his first term of imprisonment, and it will be substantial.
‘It is one that he has accepted and will serve as best as he can. It will have a profound effect on him and his family.
‘He accepts what he did and that he will go to prison for a very long time.’
Robbie Broughton moved an estimated £30million of cash and used an encryped EncroChat phone with the handle ‘NovaBear’ to carry out his work, Liverpool Crown Court was told
Police carried out the UK’s biggest-ever drugs seizure as they intercepted £20million of cocaine from a van on the motorway
John Tobin’s DNA was later found deposited on the bubble wrap of one of the drug blocks he had earlier watched being placed into boxes during the packing process
The Tobins also sold drugs to other gangs in London, Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Manchester, the north-east, and Scotland, using couriers such as Anwar Rahim
The court heard the Tobins ran a ‘criminally sophisticated, highly profitable and well-organised business’ for more than four years.
However, a police helicopter captured the moment detectives intercepted the £20million stash being transported from Kent to Warrington in the summer of 2018.
Detectives stopped the van, with the drugs secreted under floorboards and in a specially adapted ‘hide’, in the early evening of Thursday, August 2 that year.
John Tobin’s DNA was later found deposited on the bubble wrap of one of the drug blocks, which he had earlier watched being placed into boxes during the packing process.
Ms Daley enquiries revealed just less than a week earlier on July 28, John had travelled from Kent to Brussels, via Eurostar, and while he couldn’t be directly linked to the importation, he had been ‘very close to the original source’.
The Tobins both admitted conspiring to supply cocaine, heroin, ketamine and cannabis.
John Tobin had seven previous convictions for 12 offences, but nothing for drug trafficking, and was last in court in 2010 for possessing a blade in public.
Alan Tobin, a mental health nurse who worked at Rathbone Low Secure Unit in Old Swan, claimed he became embroiled in drugs to help support his five children.
The 52-year-old, of Regency Park, Widnes, had three convictions for four offences, but the last of these was in 1993, for a ‘petty’ offence.
The brothers were backed up by former martial arts star Robbie ‘The Bear’ Broughton, who enforced debts and collected payments from notorious gang leaders
Astonishing police helicopter footage showed the moment officers stopped the blue van near Knutsford, Cheshire and made arrests
Sentencing the pair, Judge Garrett Byrne told John that he clearly played a ‘leading role’, was directing the operation with the expectation of ‘substantial financial gain’, and evidence suggested he was ‘close to the importer of the cocaine’.
He said: ‘The point is made on your behalf that there must have been others above you in the chain, enforcing debts by shooting you.
‘Nevertheless, you played a leading role and were certainly towards the top of the chain.’
The judge added: ‘You have a young family who will be affected by your absence.’
Judge Byrne said the conspiracy was known through the seizure of drugs to involve at least 339kg of drugs, but was likely to have been ‘many multiples of that amount’.
He told the pair: ‘It was a business on a national scale which netted you vast sums of money, which fuelled your lavish lifestyles.
‘The money was couriered to various locations and ultimately ended up in Canary Wharf in London, when it was put through various shell companies and professionally laundered.’
Judge Byrne jailed John Tobin for 19 years and eight months and Alan Tobin for 20 years.
John Tobin’s term was reduced because he had spent 110 days – the equivalent of a 220-day sentence – on remand over a discontinued matter.
Broughton, of Breccia Gardens, who admitted conspiring to supply cocaine, was jailed for eight and a half years.
Source: Daily Mail UK