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24 November 2011, 17:20
Three men from the North West have been jailed for a total of 44 years for running a multi-billion pound drug cutting empire.
Jamie Dale from Rochdale, who was the ringleader, has got 18 years in prison for helping thousands of dealers mix drugs with chemicals to rip off users.
John Cawley got 15 years, and Barry Hartley will serve 11 years.
Every Briton who has taken cocaine since 2008 has probably snorted traces of Dale's cutting agent, according to detectives leading the enquiry.
Officers believe their capture is a major hit for the supply of the drug on a national level.
Since their arrests at the end of 2008, the average price of a gram of the dinner party drug has risen from £39 in 2009 to its current average rate of £50, according to DrugScope.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency said it would be conservative to estimate the eventual value of their scam at more than £3.5 billion.
Dale, 32, and his accomplices, John Cawley from Fleetwood and Barry Hartley from Burnley, imported more than 36 tonnes of cutting agent before selling the powder on to dealers at about £1,000 a barrel.
``If these chemicals were mixed at a ratio of one-to-one with Class A drugs ... the street value of resultant powders would be more than £3.5 billion,'' a Soca spokesman said.
``In fact, Class A drugs bought at street level typically have a much higher proportion of cutting agent than this, with cocaine purity often being as low as 10%.''
The trio were caught after an undercover operation by officers who marked stocks of chemicals bought by the trio.
Dale, Hartley, 63, and Cawley, 31, were found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to supply after a two-month trial at Leeds Crown Court.