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Semi-professional footballer jailed
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A semi-professional footballer who controlled a drug-dealing gang has been jailed, along with seven of his accomplices.

In total, the gang was sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison after police seized more than £900,000 worth of drugs and £110,000 in cash.

The following defendants all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine at an earlier hearing.

On Thursday 28 June 2012, they were sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court.

Robert Hartshorne (born 14/12/1983) of Woodlands View, Hyde was jailed for 11 years.

Michael Gaskell (born 20/09/1987) of Fir Tree Crescent, Dukinfield was jailed for seven years six months.

Sean Cannon (born 28/07/1983) of Copeland Street, Hyde was jailed for six years.

Michael Tingey (born 16/08/1958) of Thornhill, Epping, Essex was jailed for four years nine months.

Douglas Merron (born 01/02/1980) of Boden Street, Denton was jailed for three years nine months.

Stephanie Merron (born 05/05/1983) of Boden Street, Denton received a 12 month sentence suspended for 18 months.

Clare Bailey (born 31/07/1984) had previously pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs and received a eight month sentence suspended for 18 months.

Wesley Higgins (07/02/1978) of Holmes Way, Denton and Alan Page (born 17/04/1976) of Bunkers Hill Road, Hattersley, Hyde pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine at an earlier hearing. They will be sentenced at a later date.

Robert Hamilton (02/09/1980) of Cheetham Fold Road, Hyde pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and cannabis with intent to supply. He was sentenced on 31 August 2011 at Bolton Crown Court to nine years in prison.

On 24 November 2010, police stopped a car in Stockport and recovered a large bag of cocaine, which had a street value of more than £95,000. The driver, Steven Stenson, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and was sentenced to eight years in prison on 21 November 2011.

Forensic analysis of the bag revealed the fingerprints of Michael Gaskell. A police investigation was then launched, which uncovered the dealings of a drugs gang led by Robert Hartshorne, who at the time played football for Glossop North End whilst appearing to be living a premier league lifestyle.

On Tuesday 3 May 2011, Gaskell was seen to meet with Hartshorne and Page. A short time later, police stopped Gaskell in his car and found a bag of cocaine, worth around £162,000.

On Friday 3 June 2011, police saw Hamilton meet with Hartshorne. When they stopped Hamilton in his van a short time later, he was in possession of a 1kg bag of cocaine.

A further search of Hamilton’s home uncovered a drugs haven, where police seized a block of cocaine, a suitcase containing 51 bars of cannabis resin, two sets of electronic scales and a large bag of Benzocaine, which is a common mixing agent for cocaine. In total, the stash was worth around £345,000.

On Friday 16 September 2011, Cannon met with Tingey and Higgins at the home of Douglas and Stephanie Merron. Cannon was later arrested at his home address in Hyde and found to be in possession of cocaine worth more than £116,000.

Tingey, who had brought the drugs up from Essex was stopped by uniformed police later that day on the A556 in Cheshire. Following an extensive search of his car, officers found a hidden, purpose-built compartment between the back seats and the boot area, which had a bag stashed inside containing £77,000 in cash.

The Merron’s house was also searched on Bowden Street in Denton, where police seized cocaine, cannabis and Benzocaine worth more than £83,000. Drug-making equipment and a hydraulic press used to shape large quantities of drugs into blocks were also recovered.

Police tried to arrest Hartshorne as he met with someone at a takeaway in Hyde, but he ran away by jumping over nearby gardens and fencing. Hartshorne⿿s car was searched, where £5,000 in cash was found along with a passport.

Officers chased Hartshorne to an address in Hyde, where he was then arrested. A search of Hartshorne⿿s house revealed the true extent of the luxurious lifestyle he had been leading.

Police found wardrobes brimming with expensive designer clothing, over £30,000 worth of designer jewellery and photographs of his many luxury holidays.

Further investigation also revealed he owned six houses worth over £630,000, which he rented out in a bid to legitimise his illicit income. Hartshorne also rented himself a luxury apartment in the Dunham area of Altrincham, which police suspected was to be used as a safe house.

Bailey was also later arrested after drugs were found at her home following a warrant.

Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Inspector Rick Williams from Greater Manchester Police’s Force Drugs Unit said: “This case clearly illustrates that GMP will go to great lengths in order to bring to justice criminals such as these, who seem to think they are beyond the reach of the law.

“Over many months, this group were evidenced running a highly organised drugs supply business, whereby high quality cocaine was diluted with cheaper adulterants in order to maximise profits and fund the lavish lifestyles of the ringleaders.

“It was the actions of Hartshorne and his criminal associates that caused misery to the lives of the law-abiding members of the local community, and it is for that reason that I take great satisfaction in the sentences handed down today.

Superintendent Neil Evans from GMP’s Tameside division said: “Drugs are a major driving force behind many other crimes such as burglary, robbery and vehicle crime and so by targeting dealers, we are making our streets safer.

“Today’s sentences just go to show that crime really does not pay and work will continue in Tameside through hard-hitting drugs operations to tackle those involved in this industry. We will also take back from them the money and assets they have made from their criminal dealings.

“If you have information on anyone who may be committing crime in your area, please call police in Tameside on 101."