Police found more than £800,000 worth of drugs, two handguns with a silencer and a shotgun at a warehouse unit which was supposedly being used to store “building materials”, a court has heard.

Four men, Damien Derbyshire, 49, Benjamin Snell, 34, Jay Carney, 24, and Ryan O'Donnell, 32, were jailed for a combined 25 years today at Preston Crown Court for their involvement in the organised drug-dealing ring.

Prosecutor Keith Sutton explained how police executed a warrant into the unit at Ellenshaw Works in Darwen on October 11, 2019.

They found 17 blocks weighing 34kg of amphetamine in a chest freezer worth £353,000, and six blocks of cocaine, amounting to 6kg worth £480,000 in a vault from a van, as well as two handguns and shotgun hidden behind the freezer.

Lancashire Telegraph: The blocks of drugs in the chest freezerThe blocks of drugs in the chest freezer

They also found 47 rounds of ammunition and a silencer for the handgun, and seven shotgun cartridges.

Officers also found Audi and Bugatti presses, used to brand the drugs, in the unit, which had been rented by Derbyshire in February 2019, who said it was being used for a building company to store equipment.

Derbyshire, of St Ledger Court, Accrington, contacted the management and was moved to a different unit on the site before contacting them again to say he had left the building company.

Lancashire Telegraph: The shotgun found behind the chest freezerThe shotgun found behind the chest freezer

Payments for the unit continued, with Snell, of no fixed abode, making monthly payments at different post offices across the county.

Police reviewed CCTV footage that showed vehicles owned by the pair visiting the unit frequently.

DNA for Carney, of Indus Place, Lower Broughton, Salford, was found on the trigger of the shotgun while DNA for O’Donnell, of Corinthian Avenue, Lower Broughton, Salford, was found on the trigger of a handgun. Both are known associates of Derbyshire and Snell.

In the vans owned by Derbyshire and Snell that frequented the unit, officers found hidden compartments installed after manufacture.

Lancashire Telegraph: The two handguns found by police in the unitThe two handguns found by police in the unit

Two days after the unit was searched, Snell booked a one-way ticket to Portugal and was arrested upon his eventual return to the country.

Upon the arrest of O’Donnell in September 2020, officers searched his home and found a number of drugs and drug paraphernalia including cocaine and cannabis.

In mitigation for Derbyshire, Andrew Alty, said he had lost his wife in 2018 and turned to cocaine to help, becoming addicted to the drug.

He added Derbyshire suffered with an alcohol dependency and had been diagnosed with a personality disorder.

He also said Derbyshire’s involvement was “lesser” and he was just the name on the unit, and he was only transporting cash for which he was paid £200 per week.

Lancashire Telegraph: (L) Damien Derbyshire and (R) Benjamin Snell(L) Damien Derbyshire and (R) Benjamin Snell

For Snell, Nicola Daley said he was trying to put his life back on track for the sake of his family, and has enrolled onto an accountancy course so he can secure a job upon his release.

Both Mr Alty and Ms Daley tried to tell Judge Guy Mathieson their clients had played a “lesser role”, however this was immediately refused.

Judge Mathieson said: “These were people trusted to look after huge amounts of drugs, firearms and ammunition.

“To say they are lesser role, they are not on a pedal bike delivering one wrap of cocaine for a tenner.”

Mr Alty added: “I do not suggest for one minute he went into this without his eyes wide open.

Representing Carney, Nicholas Clarke said Carney made ‘no use’ of the gun himself and that he had a long-term partner and a child.

In mitigation for O’Donnell, Michael Johnson argued that he was in custody from March 2019 until the time of the arrests.

Lancashire Telegraph: (L) Ryan O'Donnell and (R) Jay Carney(L) Ryan O'Donnell and (R) Jay Carney

Mr Johnson tried to argue that because of this, O’Donnell was not responsible for the use of the gun, however the Judge said he would have been very aware the drugs were being passed into the hands of drug dealers and what the implications of this may be.

Sentencing the group, Judge Mathieson said: “All four of you had various involvements in an organised crime group dealing in drugs and firearms.

“This unit was clearly a base for an organised crime group to press drugs.

“For Snell, these were firearms with ammunition which can only have been intended to cause serious alarm, if not worse.

“For Carney and O’Donnell, to deny the reason for why such a weapon was required is ridiculous.”

Damien Derbyshire pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs. He was jailed for six years.

Benjamin Snell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs and possessing a shotgun without a certificate, two counts of possessing a prohibited firearm and two counts of possessing ammunition without a firearm licence. He was jailed for nine years.

Jay Carney pleaded guilty to possession of a shotgun without a certificate. He was jailed for two years and six months.

Ryan O’Donnell pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of a class B drug and possession of a class A drug with intent to supply. He was jailed for seven years and 10 months.

DC Paul Hayes said: “This was a complex investigation which has resulted in members of an organised criminal group being given significant custodial sentences. They thought they could cleverly conceal their criminal activity but through good detective work and targeted policing we have managed to dismantle their web of illegal activity.

“Lancashire Police will not tolerate the illegal activities of organised criminal gangs on our streets. I hope the outcome of this case sends a strong message that East Lancashire is not a safe place to operate for those intending to deal drugs and arm themselves with deadly weapons. If you chose to do so, we will look for you, we will find you, and we will put you before the courts.”

DS Steve Munro said: “I would like to praise all the officers who have worked on this case, as well as our colleagues from the Crown Prosecution Service, for their professionalism and dedication in this case. Without that work this significant drugs haul would have been flooded onto the streets of Lancashire and three lethal weapons could have been used to inflict serious or fatal harm.

“I would encourage anybody who has information about illegal activity happening in their area to contact police via 101, confident that we will take the appropriate action.”