A MAJOR drugs gang member has been ordered to pay back almost £40,000.

A court found that Jonathan Nicholls, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for his part in peddling cocaine, heroine and cannabis in East Lancashire, had received £470,799.90 from the ‘sophisticated operation’.

But it was determined only £38,620 could be claimed back from him.

The courts can only recover cash and tangible assets like cars or homes. It is not always possible to get back all of the money.

Nicholls, 32, who was charged with conpiracy to supply heroin, must pay the amount back within six months. If he does not, he will face a further 15 months behind bars.

The defendant, from Liverpool, was part of a gang led by drug barons Suhail Vohra, of Charnwood Close, and Babr Qasam, of Chestnut Walk, both Blackburn.

The gang’s year-long activities were focussed on Blackburn and Preston, but it emerged they also strayed as far as Cumbria, Merseyside, Berkshire and West Yorkshire.

Officers investigated the group as part of Operation Oak, which also saw Blackburn solicitor Basharat Ditta, of Adelaide Terrace, sentenced to three years in jail for passing top-secret police information to gang dealers.

Det Supt Lee Halstead, head of Lancashire Police’s serious and organised crime unit, said: “This drugs operation was carried out with a certain amount of sophistication as the drugs had to be imported into the country.

“As a result, these people, who did not have a legitimate income, led comfortable and in some cases, quite affluent lifestyles.

“This was at the expense and misery of other residents in the community, whose lives were blighted by the effects of drug dealing and associated violence in their neighbourhoods.”