Police were alerted in January 2016 to escalating violence on Wearside, Sunderland, between members of an organised criminal group.
The trouble began after the seizure of a shipping container filled with high purity cocaine, worth around £2m from Tilbury Docks in Essex in August 2015.
Drug dealers, including Benjamin Cahill, of Doncaster and Anthony Sweeney, of Washington, were supposed to pick up the 50 kilo consignment, which had been arranged for them by one of the defendants, David Gloyne.
Gloyne served as the head of a North East crime group and had orchestrated the shipment with the help of his co-accused, Yvan Nikolic.
The pair had met in Spain - and Nikolic, who was born in Yugoslavia but holds both French and Montenegrin citizenship, used his status as a prominent member of an organised criminal Balkan group to have the drugs shipped in from Brazil so they could be transported to the North East and sold.
However, the plan went awry when Gloyne’s crew were spotted on the docks by security staff before they had a chance to recover their haul. The cocaine was later seized by law enforcement and a major investigation began.
Things hit boiling point when Cahill was involved in a plan to steal 27kg of cocaine he knew had been stored at a premises in the Sunniside area of Gateshead.
When the theft was uncovered in September 2015, Gloyne and his trusted deputy Sweeney set out to hunt down those responsible.
Cahill was then captured and assaulted by the violent pair, but luckily managed to flee the scene and drove to nearby police station. However, unbeknown to him – he had fled the scene in a car containing two kilos of the stolen cocaine.
This was later found by officers and forensic investigators were able to link the packages to the Tilbury Dock supply – and prove the kidnap was connected.
Following Cahill’s arrest detectives at the North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU) began pulling together the various strands of the conspiracy – joining forces with officers from Durham Constabulary to share key evidence and information about serious and organised crime across the region.
Working hand-in-hand with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) a case was built and supported by Cleveland Police, the International Crime Coordination Centre and Europol.
The final defendant – Melanie Bevan (nee Towers) was also arrested in connection with the conspiracy. As Cahill’s partner at the time, Bevan would allow large quantities of cocaine and cash to be stored in her home, and also acted as a courier for the group.
And, on March 25, a jury convicted Nikolic, Gloyne and Bevan of conspiracy to supply.
Cahill and Sweeney did not stand trial as they previously pleaded guilty in 2020 – but were sentenced following the conviction of their associates.
The following day Nikolic and Gloyne were sentenced to more than 40 years in prison, marking the end of a four-year investigation.
The group were sentenced as follows:
Anthony Sweeney, 34, of Crake Way, Washington, previously admitted conspiring to supply class A drugs, kidnap, false imprisonment and assault and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Benjamin Cahill, 30, of Doncaster, previously admitted conspiracy to supply class A drugs and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.
Yvan Nikolic, 56, of Rue Domat, Paris, was convicted of conspiracy to supply class A drugs and sentenced to 21 years behind bars and must serve a minimum of 10-and-a-half years.
David Gloyne, 37, of Plawsworth, Durham, was convicted of conspiracy to supply class A drugs, kidnap and false imprisonment and was also sentenced to 21 years with a minimum term of 10-and-a-half years.
Melanie Bevan, 44, of Milton Grove, Shotton, in County Durham, was convicted of conspiracy to supply class A drugs and is due to be sentenced on May 4.
"Thanks to the meticulous work of the law enforcement and CPS staff over a number of years, this case has helped us launch five subsequent investigations resulting in more than 20 criminals from the highest echelons of drug supply, to their lower level couriers jailed.
"Organised crime has no place in our communities and we will take robust action against those found to be involved in this type of criminality. I’d ask anyone caught up this type of chaotic and violent lifestyle to ask themselves if it’s really worth it. I would also like to take this opportunity to inform those involved in this type of criminality that it’s not too late to get out.
"Under the banner of Operation Sentinel, we will continue to target those involved in serious and organised crime and will work with law enforcement colleagues regionally, nationally and internationally to pursue those responsible and bring them before the courts.
"This operation has targeted those criminals that are profiting from the misery of drug addiction within communities. These individuals are pulling the strings behind the scenes, exploiting vulnerable people to do their dirty work and using serious violence. These convictions send out a message that no one is untouchable."