MAJOR players in a multi-million pound drugs gang have been jailed for nearly 70 years.

The substantial prison sentences were handed out this afternoon at Hove Crown Court by Judge Anthony Niblett.

Several men admitted their role in a conspiracy to supply heroin and one was convicted during a seven week trial.

Lea Smith, 46, of Natal Road, Brighton, described as having a leading role in the gang which supplied drugs from Liverpool to Brighton and Hove as well as Eastbourne, was found guilty and jailed for 25 years.

Jon-Paul Swann, 33, of Colin Drive, Liverpool, was jailed for 15 years.

Paul Shannon, 60, of North Street, Eastbourne, and Arthur Jones, 55, Downs Avenue, Eastbourne, were both sentenced to 10 years behind bars each.

Neil Ballard, 48, of Hangleton Road, Hove, was handed a seven year sentence.

Four people involved in the case died before sentencing. 

Lee Mack and Andrew Antoniou both died of cancer.

Mack, 50, of Sheepcote Valley Caravan Park, Brighton, died in April and Antoniou, 58, of Dorset Mews, Brighton on May 5.

Kingsley Walls, 44, who also had previously pleaded guilty to his role within the organisation, died of natural causes in December.

Judge Niblett said evidence found Thomas Wynn, 49, of Commercial Road in Vauxhall, Liverpool, was the ringleader of the gang. He was found dead in a Dubai hotel room while on the run from Sussex Police.  

Julie Coltherd, 44, of Langley Crescent, Brighton, pleaded guilty to money laundering rather than conspiracy to supply heroin but is still due to be sentenced.

Ian Gerald Frost, 49, of St Michael's Place, Brighton, was found not guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin but admitted charges of dangerous driving and possession of cannabis from 21 August 2014. He was already been handed a 10 month jail sentence and banned from driving for 12 months.

Ronald Edwards, 50, of Chiddingly Close, Brighton and Sean Davidson, 50, of Downhill View, Brighton, was found not guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin. The jury was unable to reach a verdict in respect of Louis Makai, 45, of Langridge Drive, Portslade. A retrial will take place in November.

The court heard how detectives from the community investigation team in Brighton led a series of drugs raids in March 2015 resulting in 19 arrests and the seizure of £50,000 cash. Search warrants were carried out at nine addresses in Brighton, one in Eastbourne and one in Liverpool.

During these searches, which involved more than 100 police officers and staff, six kilos of heroin mixed with cutting agent were found and seized, with an estimated street value of £600,000.

Detective Inspector Julie Wakeford said: "This case resulted from a nine-month covert investigation into an organised crime network, supplying heroin from Liverpool to Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne. Disrupting this network of dealers has meant not only that their heroin has been prevented from being sold on our streets but also by targeting all those involved in their entire network from the top to the bottom, we have achieved a long term disruption of their ability to operate.

"The sentences received by those in court today sends out a message that we will not tolerate the supply of drugs into the city. My team along with colleagues in Sussex and other police forces around the country will continue to work alongside many other agencies to disrupt any group who come here to sell drugs."

For the full story, see tomorrow’s Argus.