Detectives smash operation to import “plant food” drugs from China

Cumbrian detectives have smashed an illegal operation to import “plant food” drugs from China – with the ringleader jailed for more than four-and-a-half years.

Stephen Lowrey, 57, was handed the prison term at Carlisle Crown Court, with others associated with the operation also facing sentence.

The case is the latest in a run of sentencings in recent weeks that fall under Operation Alliance – Cumbria Constabulary’s work to protect the public against organised crime.

Stephen Lowrey, of Coronation Crescent, Distington was jailed for four years and seven months after admitting fraudulently evading prohibition on the importation of a controlled drug.

The others receiving sentences – all after admitting a money laundering offence – were:

  • Julie Ostle, 56, of Solway Road, Moresby Parks, Whitehaven. She was received a 14-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Stacey Lowrey, 37, of Acre Street, Huddersfield. She was handed a two-year community order and must perform 120 hours of unpaid work.
  • Sandra Parkinson, 62, of Thornton Road, Whitehaven. She was sentenced to a two-year community order.
  • Liam McConnell, 28, of Gameriggs Road, Whitehaven. He received a six-month community order.

The case unfolded after officers were informed that two packages had been intercepted by Border Force at Stansted Airport on June 26, 2018.

They contained a class B drug, called dibutylone1, referred to sometimes as “plant food”.

The estimated street value for the packages was a total of £80,000. They came from China and were addressed to Stephen Lowrey at his home.

Information suggested Stephen Lowrey was keeping a large amount of money, approximately £20,000, at a premises frequented by his sister, Julie Ostle.

She was arrested and a package containing bundles of cash was found.

Investigations showed that between November 2015 and May 2018 the defendants, between them, had made dozens of transactions totalling more than £100,000  to various people in Hong Kong and China.

Detective Inspector Duncan Brooker, speaking after the sentencing, said: “This case involved drugs worth large sums of money and transactions of other significant amounts of funds.

“Our officers continue to be relentless in our pursuit of those involved in this level of drugs crime.

“We have had a lot of success in Cumbria in recent years in dismantling and securing significant sentences for these types of organised crime groups.

“This work continues under Operation Alliance – and this is another example of the hard work going on all-year-round to prevent drugs such as this reaching our streets.

“We continue to appeal to the whole community to help us stop the flow of drugs.”


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