On 17 March 2015, the Mirror covered the story of two men whose cocaine supply operation was cut short after police were tipped off – suspicious supermarket staff had contacted the police after the men had bought 12 food blenders.
Suspicious supermarket staff alerted police as neither Gavin Etchell or Thomas Davies “looked like cooks or bakers”, the court heard.
The police uncovered a sizeable cocaine supply operation, with £300,000 worth of cocaine and almost 6kg of benzocaine – a substance commonly “cut” with cocaine to reduce the purity and therefore increase the quantity. The plan was to use the blenders to mix the two substances.
Cash was also seized by the police.
Etchell was sentenced to nine years and Davies six years eight months.
And here is where we run into a problem – we don’t know the weight of the drugs, nor its purity, and we dont know whether either pleaded guilty and so a calculation is difficult.
The starting point is the drugs guideline (see page 9). Step 1 is to consider the weight of drugs – not purity. Some say that is artificial (e.g. two identical drug supply operations are caught by police, one is pre-cut (1kg at 100 per cent) the other is post-cut (20kg at 5 per cent). Based on weight, the former is in the middle of category 2, the latter is at the top of category 1. Purity is considered at Step 2, however to redress the balance an artificial increase to reflect the 100 per cent purity is needed to maintain a parity between what are essentially identical operations.)
Anyway, I digress…cocaine bought on the street is typically 5-20 per cent purity (usually at the lower end of that scale) and so if we assume that the 6kg of benzocaine represented between 80 and 95 per cent of the total amount of drugs, we are looking at between 6.3 and 7.2 kg of cocaine (assuming the cocaine found was at or near to 100% purity).
We are therefore looking at a category 1 case. We don’t know what “role” the judge ascribed to them but as they were buying 12 blenders from ASDA, I think we can safely say it wasn’t a sophisticated operation and certainly not on a commercial scale, and so they are probably “significant role”. That gives a starting point of 10 years, with a range of 9-12. So, considering their stupidity and lack of sophistication, we end up with a starting point of around 9 or 10 years.
So, taking an educated guess, I would assume that Etchell pleaded not guilty (giving him a sentence of 9 years) and Davies pleaded guilty with a 25 per cent reduction (resulting in 81 months or six year and nine months – close enough).
Of course this is all speculation and there may well be material we are not aware of which could alter this analysis. On the above information and assumptions however, the sentences seem at the level we would expect for such an operation.
It is understood that confiscation orders will follow. Orders for the destruction of the drugs will also have been made.
So what have Etchell and Davies learned? Don’t buy 12 blenders for your drug supply operation, but if you have to, maybe buy them online.
EDIT: It now appears, thanks to a commenter (see below) that in fact the situation was slightly more complex than the Mirror story led to believe. The purity of the drugs was 9-11 per cent with a total weight of just over 1 kilo. That would place the offence into category 2 HOWEVER, the guidelines are predicated upon indicative supply, not the amount of drugs actually found. Therefore the calculations above concerning the benzocaine remain relevant. It would appear likely that the 9-11 per cent cocaine mix was already cut, and the remaining benzocaine was for future supply. Additionally, £4,000 in cash was found indicating previous supply. Further (indeed, it gets worse for Mr Etchell), he seemingly pleaded to possession of a stun gun and also intent to supply cannabis. With the stun gun likely to attract a minimum sentence of 5 years a total sentence of 9 years (if that is in fact the total sentence) seems somewhat modest.