Robert Blackburn (top) and son Steven
A FATHER who set up a cocaine ring to help his fugitive son while he was on the run overseas has been jailed.
Robert Blackburn, 64, had been freed from a 10-year jail term for heroin supply in 2008 but he soon turned to drug dealing once again when his son Steven Blackburn became a wanted man and fled to northern Cyprus while serving his own prison sentence.
Steven shot doorman John Ormston, 26, twice at point-blank range outside his home in Throckley, Newcastle, with a double-barrelled shotgun. Ormston survived the attack, and four men, including Blackburn Jr, were jailed indefinitely for the 2005 attack.
After that, Blackburn Snr, a joiner with a passion for boats, began playing a leading role in a cocaine gang in a bid to funnel cash to his fugitive son. He helped orchestrate the collection and supply of kilo shipments of the high-purity drug.
Deals were made in a car park behind the Commercial Hotel pub, Winlaton, Gateshead, with Blackburn Snr often arriving in a BMW.
Henchmen moved the cocaine as well as carefully packaged bundles of cash – in £20 notes and up to £60,000 a time – from safe houses to underworld contacts.
But Blackburn Snr fell under suspicion in Spring last year, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
Northumbria Police launched an operation, codenamed Vegas, putting him and his associates under surveillance.
Jeff Mason, prosecuting, said: “The day of the police strike was August 8 last year, the day arrests and searches took place.
“When Blackburn was arrested, his response was ‘That’s another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into’.”
Blackburn, of Hallow Drive, Throckley, admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine together with more than 10,000 Class C controlled BZP tablets also recovered during the operation.
Jailing him for 11 years, Judge David Wood said: “You are described as playing a leading role and whatever your personal problems which led to you being involved, the fact is you led a number of other people into much more serious trouble than they have ever been in before.
“These are serious, professional offences and there are aggravating features in your case.”
Six other men arrested during the Vegas investigation were given jail terms totalling 25 years.
Christopher Knox, mitigating, said: “He became involved because he was helping his son who is a fugitive in northern Cyprus.
“Telephone evidence shows an abundance of calls to his son and there is material about the funding of his son by a co-accused who was a longstanding friend.”
The six other defendants were:
Alan Atkinson, 44, of Hallow Drive, Throckley. He admitted conspiracy and was jailed for six years.
David French, 58, of Ullswater Crescent, Winlaton, was a “warehouser” who used not only his own home but his elderly mother’s house to store drugs and cash, and was jailed for seven years.
Alan Bullock, 49, of Tindles Caravan Park, Longframlington, Northumberland. He acted as a courier, as well as warehouseman, and was jailed for six years.
Robert Cann, 35, Kendrick Street, Stoke-on-Trent. He was a courier who moved the drugs to Tyneside from Liverpool and was jailed for two years.
Alan Bell, 33, of Falstone Avenue, South West Denton, Newcastle. He laundered at least £145,000 of the gang’s drugs cash, was a close friend of Steven Blackburn, and was jailed for two years.
James Bell, 29, of Linbridge Drive, West Denton. He was Alan Bell’s younger brother and also admitted laundering some of the gang’s cash and was jailed for two years.
Another defendant, Brian Carrier, 37, of Harehills Tower, Kenton, Newcastle, was jailed for three years and eight months after admitting possessing almost 4kg of amphetamine with intent to supply at an earlier hearing. He had been arrested during a spin-off operation from the Vegas inquiry.