Three men who used the dark web to sell drugs ‘linked to over 125 deaths’ in the UK have been jailed for a total of more than 40 years.
Jake Levene, 23, Lee Childs, 45, and Mandy Lowther, 22, set up a business titled ‘UKBargins’ importing and exporting fentanyl and one of its analogues, carfentanyl.
They feared to have left behind an ‘unsolvable’ death toll as they raked in £163,474 in just five months.
The class A drug, which is prescribed for severe pain relief, can be fatal in doses as small as 0.002g, a court heard, and the gang harvested enough to kill millions while ranking in £8,000 a week.
Gary Edward’s family is among those who have been told their loved one is ‘highly likely’ to have been killed by fentanyl produced in the gang’s lab, according to the Sun.
His mum Debbie said: ‘Those three are killers in my eyes. They knew what they were producing and they still sent it out into the world.
‘They might as well have stood on a roof with a machine gun.
‘They were hidden in that lock-up secretly killing people. They never saw the lives taken, the ruined lives of people left behind – mother and children.’
Figures show an increase of 75 deaths in the area in 2017. The trio sent out over 2,800 packages.
Charlton Livick also died after buying carfentanyl from the dark web in March 2017.
It has never been proved that the lethal dose was supplied by the gang, but his mother Kathy Livick, 62, told how she will live with the pain of his death ‘until I meet my end’.
Prior to the sentencing, she said: ‘All I want is my son back, and I can’t have that, but it’s good to see some justice done.’
The brazen trio operated their business from a rented industrial unit under a fake name where they mixed the drugs with bulking agents and packaged them for posting.
‘Highly intelligent’ Levene jointly controlled the premises in Leeds, along with amateur boxer Lowther while Childs was responsible for posting packages of drugs to customers.
The drugs were posted to customers throughout the UK as well as the US, Germany, Norway, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Canada, France, Singapore, Holland and Spain.
But the organised crime gang were apprehended two months later in April 2017 following a police raid in what is believed to be the largest single seizure of the drugs in Europe.
Officers discovered at least 635g of pure carfentanyl – which is generally used to anaesthetise elephants and polar bears and thought to be 3,000-5,000 times stronger than heroin.
An exact measurement of the quantity could not be provided as forensic scientists thought the drug was too dangerous to handle.
Police also found a quarter of a kilogram of fentanyl which is believed to be 50 times stronger than heroin.
A recovered laptop belonging to Levene, who was a top of class student at school, also showed 2,853 sales to 443 customers worldwide, with 172 in the UK for a total of £163,474.
The trio pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the exportation of a controlled Class A drug and two counts of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of class A.
Levene, who previously started a university degree in aero-engineering at Sheffield University, and Lowther were each given a 16-and-a-half-year sentence.
Co-accused Childs was handed a sentence of 10-and-a-half-years at Leeds Crown Court.
Post-mortem results indicate that 125 drug-related deaths in the UK are known to be linked to fentanyl or one of its analogues, including carfentanyl.
The majority of these deaths occurred before mid-2017, though cases have continued into 2018.
Sentencing the trio, Judge Mushtaq Khokhar said: ‘When it comes to Class A drugs the courts are very familiar with heroin, crack, crack cocaine and so forth.
‘We see that everyday of the week in these courts so anyone who is involved in distribution of drugs can expect higher sentences.
‘It’s not just those who are addicted to drugs who suffer misery but also society at large.
‘This was a sophisticated operation, small I accept but nevertheless sophisticated.
‘One only has to look what the officers found when they raided the unit. There were specific areas set aside for specific tasks to be performed.
‘Given the potency of the drugs in question, it’s a different breed to heroin.’