EIGHT men have been sentenced to a total of 112 years in jail for their part in a multi-million pound drug smuggling operation.

Relatives packed the court's public gallery as Judge Morris handed down some of the longest sentences ever given for drugs offences.

The gang imported millions of pounds worth of cocaine, amphetamines,cannabis and ecstasy tablets hidden in crates of engine parts.

Police believe the convicted men had been running the operation for around 12 months and during that time had brought in drugs with a street value of £130 million.

Ringleader Gerald McLeish was sentenced to 24 years in jail. Paul Bell and Nigel Hughes, who were considered just below McLeish in the pecking order, were each jailed for 20 years.

Ian Longden was jailed for 11 years and Christian Wolfendale and Simon Balshaw, who admitted their role before the trial started, received 14 years and 10 years respectively.

Paul Dunn received a 12 year jail sentence and Paul Earle, who played a lesser role, was jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to supply Class B drugs. Both men had changed their pleas to guilty during the trial.

Two other men, Christopher King and Paul Wyatt, walked free from Bolton Crown Court last week after the jury failed to reach verdicts.

Stanley Bryson, who was additionally charged with money laundering, died before the case started.

Judge William Morris, when sentencing the men said: "You have conspired to supply Class A drugs which is an evil trade which causes misery, ill health and sometimes death.

"You supplied Class A and Class B drugs on a truly massive scale and over a substantial period of time. The supply of drugs, especially Class A, has grown over the last 30 years

in our society like a cancer."

Judge Morris said McLeish controlled the Manchester end of the operation and Bell was just below him.

McLeish had been found with substantial amounts of cash, more than £500,000, and Bell also had £58,000 in cash in his flat when he was arrested.

Police officers had arrested Bell as he arrived at McLeish's house with £19,000 stuffed in bag. The gang was smashed after police and customs officers from three countries

covertly filmed them bringing the drugs into the UK.

Using unwitting legitimate haulage firms, they smuggled the drugs hidden in crates of engine parts. The men were arrested in a co-ordinated swoop when police raided a rented industrial unit on the Beasley Industrial estate in Radcliffe, and found almost £4.7 million worth of drugs.

Officers recovered eight kilos of cocaine, 315,371 ecstasy tablets, 45.5 kilos of amphetamine and 27 kilos of cannabis, plus a small amount of crack cocaine.

The prosecution told the jury the men ran the intercontinental smuggling operation along strict business lines.

They set up a company and sent small crates of engine parts to Belgium and France which were returned to the UK packed with drugs.

The undercover operation, spread over several months, eventually lead to the massive haul of drugs found in the rented industrial units. The men were found guilty following a marathon trial lasting almost six months and which had three separate juries.

Small-time Heywood jeweller Gerald McLeish was the managing director of the drugs operation and directed its activities via several mobile phones and clandestine meetings.

McLeish admitted he had more than £500,000 in cash stashed away but claimed some of it was from the proceeds of selling illegal alcohol and cigarettes.

And his co-conspirator Paul Bell claimed he had no fixed address but when police raided his luxury flat they found £58,000 hidden in shoeboxes.

The smugglers also used a company which supplied "virtual offices" as a cover for their illegal activities

The "company" dealt in drugs brought to the UK from Belgium and Spain.

Longden was the delivery man seen by police regularly collecting consignments from the Radcliffe unit for shipment.

When he was arrested in a cul-de-sac police found 12 kilos of cannabis in his van.

Dunn was the regional sales manager for Liverpool and the man who engaged driver Paul Earle. Nigel Hughes was a director of the company responsible

for transport services.

Names, addresses and charges:

The accused:

Paul Bell, aged 37, of Hardcastle Apartments, Bradshaw Hall Drive, Bolton, Gerald McLeish, aged 42, of Clifton Close, Heywood, Ian Longden, aged 38, of Ridgeway Street, Ancoats,and Nigel Hughes, aged 33, of Coventry, were convicted of two charges of conspiracy to sell Class A and conspiracy to sell Class B drugs.

Paul Earle, aged 31, of Radway Road, Huyton, and Paul Dunn, aged 34, of Prescot, changed their pleas to guilty during the trial. Christian Wolfendale, aged 35, of Cross Lane, Radcliffe,and Simon Balshaw, aged 30, of Rupert Street, Radcliffe, admitted their roles prior to the start of the trial.

Christopher King, aged 38, of Middleton and Paul Wyatt, aged 38, of Caddington, Beds, had also denied the charges.

The jury was discharged by Judge William Morris after they failed to reach a verdict in the case against King and Wyatt.