Gym owner who refused to close during lockdown busted for part in drug empire

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A gym owner who refused to close during lockdown has been busted for his role in a drug empire and trafficking scheme.

Nicholas Whitcombe, who was fined £1000 for keeping his Body Tech Fitness site in Moreton, Liverpool open has been described as a "professional drug dealer" by a mortified judge.

The fitness fanatic, who shot to fame at the height of the pandemic, was exposed after police found texts where he described how to "clean" his dirty money.

Jersey's customs and immigration department lead an investigation which found that the gym boss worked with Anthony Andrew Dryden in a plot valued at more than £54,000, reports the Liverpool Echo.

Between 2018 and 2019 the pair, both 31, were involved in a conspiracy to traffic cannabis resin into the island and launder the money, with Whitcombe operating from Merseyside and Dryden from Jersey.

Prosecutors at Jersey’s Royal Court said Whitcombe would source the drugs and instruct people to send them from England to a third party at their work address in Jersey, the Bailiwick Express reported.

The packages were then picked up by Dryden, who sold them, collected the cash and sent it back to UK addresses provided by Whitcombe.

Between June and September of 2018 a total of 3.1kg was imported into Jersey and three exports of cash were sent out, totalling £16,750.

There appeared to be a "cooling off" period after contacts of Whitcombe sent a package to the wrong address before, in December 2018, Whitcombe told Dryden he was handing the UK side of their scheme over to a friend.

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Using that contact Dryden then imported an estimated 500g to 1kg of cannabis in March 2019, and thanked Whitcombe for helping to set up the new supply line.

In June 2019, Dryden was also involved in importing 451.69g of cannabis resin alone.

Dryden was arrested the following month, and his mobile phone was seized.

Following a gap of two years, in July 2021 Dryden was arrested again, and Whitcombe was arrested, brought back to Jersey and charged.

Prosecuting, Crown Advocate Richard Pedley recommended to the court that both men be sentenced to three years and six months in prison on Wednesday.

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Advocate George Pearce, defending Dryden, said his client had asked him to "apologise to the court for his actions and for finding himself before the court again".

Advocate Julian Gollop, representing Whitcombe, highlighted that two years had passed between the Crown becoming aware of the text exchanges.

He also stressed that Whitcombe’s only involvement in one of the importations was to provide his friend's details to Dryden and encourage him to respond.

Advocate Gollop argued Whitcombe should not be locked up, highlighting both his efforts to set up his own fitness business, and his community work, noting how he "fronted a national campaign during lockdown to have gyms and health services open and available to members of the public".

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It was that campaign that saw Whitcombe appear on national television as he urged the Government to allow gyms in areas hit by regional lockdowns to remain open back in Autumn 2020.

Advocate Gollop said: “Yes he’s prospered, yes he’s established his gym, he’s got his clothing business – but he’s worked hard for the community, for charities, both locally and nationally.”

Summing up, however, Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae said: “You are both 31-years-old, neither of you are young men… You are both, in the opinion of this court, professional drug dealers and certainly were at the time of these offences.”

He also described the money laundering allegation as a “serious case” as both men were sentenced to three years in prison.

Following the hearing, Rhiannon Small, Senior Manager at Jersey's Customs and Immigration Service (JCIS), said: “The custodial sentences handed down by the Royal Court reflect the serious nature of drug trafficking and money laundering into our island.

"The detection and prevention of such offences remain a priority for JCIS."

  • Crime
  • Cannabis
  • Money
  • Drugs

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