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Police officers and staff commended for investigation into dark web drugs plot

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North Yorkshire Police officers and staff who helped bring down a “sophisticated” international drugs market on the dark web have received commendations.

Ross Brennan and Aarron Gledhill, who met at university, were jailed for more than 17 years for conspiracy to import fentanyl and other potent drugs and sell them on the dark web – an operation that earned them around £450,000.

Twenty six North Yorkshire Police officers and staff members have each received a Chief Constable’s Commendation for their role in the investigation.

North Yorkshire Police’s Chief Constable, Dave Jones, said they displayed “inspirational teamwork, courageous decision making and professionalism in dismantling a sophisticated international drugs market and protecting the public from further harm”.

Some of the North Yorkshire Police officers and staff who helped bring down an international drugs market based in York pick up their Chief Constable’s Commendation.

 The scale and complexity of the investigation meant it drew on specialisms from an array of teams across North Yorkshire Police.

They include the neighbourhood policing team, investigation hub, crime analysts, the cybercrime team, digital forensic experts, covert teams and North Yorkshire Police’s organised crime unit.

Detective Inspector Nichola Holden, who led the investigation for North Yorkshire Police and received a commendation, said: “It was very rewarding when Brennan and Gledhill chose to plead guilty amid the overwhelming evidence against them, and received significant prison sentences.

“However, it wouldn’t have been possible to get to that stage without the massive, collaborative effort from specialist teams across North Yorkshire Police and beyond.

“It goes to show that although North Yorkshire Police is spread over a big geographic area, we can bring together an enviable range of skills to tackle a new generation of criminals who are using new technology.”

The Brennan and Gledhill case is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK due to the quantities of extremely strong drugs involved and their use of complex technology to connect with buyers.

When ringleader Brennan was sentenced at York Crown Court in September 2017, the judge described him as a “sophisticated and arrogant” “21st-century criminal”.

The 28-year-old from Huntington, York, set up an “online supermarket” on the dark web to advertise the wares, and used encryption software to hide transactions.

He imported drugs from around the world including fentanyl – which is up to 100 times stronger than heroin – cut them and posted them to thousands of online customers who paid in the virtual currency of Bitcoins.

Gledhill, 30, of Huddersfield, received and stored packages of drugs, which were sent to addresses in York and Huddersfield.

Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import and supply class-A drugs and money laundering.

Brennan, from Huntington, York, was sentenced to 13 years, eight months in prison, while Gledhill was jailed for three years, nine months.

The investigation, led by North Yorkshire Police, involved hundreds of police officers and staff and well as the National Crime Agency and neighbouring forces, including West Yorkshire Police.

Fentanyl remains a relatively new drug in the UK, and some of the learning from the North Yorkshire Police investigation has been adopted nationwide.

The National Crime Agency has used it to develop the national response to the risks of new synthetic opiates, similar to the substances Brennan and Gledhill conspired to sell. And the Chief Coroner has used it to develop national guidance for drug deaths related to fentanyl.

Last modified: February 6, 2018