Dealer and the flashy drug lord who gave dirty cash to churches

A fugitive drug dealer today admitted being part of a gang who trafficked millions of pounds worth of cocaine and heroin.

Paul Graney worked for Michael Barlow – a drug lord who holidayed in Dubai but also gifted dirty cash to churches and community projects.

Barlow, then 34, jetted off to the United Arab Emirates and Spain, and blew ill-gotten gains at Harrods and on designer shoes for his mistress.

The rail recruitment boss made donations to St Francis Xavier and St Peter's Catholic churches and Shrewsbury House youth club in Everton.

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But, unknown to Barlow, police were filming his gang in a luxury apartment turned drugs factory, and listening to him chatting in his BMW.

The mastermind – whose jail sentences totalled 16 years – even bragged on the phone: "We're up to our eyebrows. We're swimming in gear."

Cash recovered from Michael Barlow's cocaine and heroin gang

Barlow was jailed alongside his right-hand man Joseph Graney, then 31, and trusted subordinate Alan Foster, then 43, in November 2016.

Since July that year two other suspected members of the gang – Joseph's twin brother Paul, and Liam Mills – were thought to be at large.

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Paul Graney, 35, of Snowdon Lane, Vauxhall, was extradited from the Netherlands last month and today appeared at Liverpool Crown Court.

Appearing via video link from HMP Altcourse, he admitted conspiring to supply both cocaine and heroin between May and November 2015.

Prosecutors then revealed he has been serving a prison sentence in Holland for matters including more drugs offences.

Joseph Graney – the identical twin brother of Paul Graney

Martin Reid, prosecuting, said video footage showed his involvement in the 2015 drug plots "towards the latter end".

However, the barrister said he didn't have details about other crimes Paul Graney committed while on the run.

Mr Reid said he was serving a sentence in Holland when extradited and "further foreign enquiries" were required.

Julian Nutter, defending, asked Judge Louise Brandon to take into account not only the fact he "fled the jurisdiction", but also that he had already served a prison sentence – suggesting the two may "cancel each other out".

He said: "As I understand the position it's passport offences and offences arising out of how comes it he was able to avoid the authorities in the Netherlands."

Mr Reid said there was also mention of "drug offences" in the Netherlands.

Police seized Audis, motorbikes, drugs and thousands of pounds in dawn raids on July 14, 2016, following a joint investigation with the National Crime Agency (NCA) into Barlow's operation.

Police bugged the gang's rented flat at Waterside Apartments in Princes Dock, where a camera hidden in the ceiling recorded Barlow, Joseph Graney and Foster.

It showed hundreds of thousands of pounds on a counting machine and regular kilo-sized white blocks of Class A drugs.

But not a single fingerprint or item of DNA was found.

Police drugs raid in which luxury cars and motorbikes were seized

Prosecutors said this showed the gang – filmed routinely wearing latex gloves – were "forensically highly aware" and their product was "the very highest level" of purity.

It was shipped to major dealers across the UK and the gang made so much money, their counting machine was once recorded operating for two hours straight.

Speaking in 2016, Andrew Ford, prosecuting, said Barlow's lover Lisa Gerrard was seen at the flat, along with "the highly culpable but at large" Paul Greaney and Mills.

When officers covertly visited the flat, they discovered tick lists mentioning £147,000 deals, mobile phones, drugs and cash.

Joseph Graney cut drugs and counted notes – kept in a microwave before being moved to a middle man referred to as 'the accountant' – while Foster manned a drugs press.

Alan Foster, 43, of Marnell Close, Vauxhall

Mr Reid today said Paul Graney became involved when the gang started dealing with smaller amounts, after a series of police busts, but suggested he still played a "leading role".

Mr Nutter pointed out there were recordings when the prosecution could not confirm which of the identical Graney twins could be seen.

He said Paul Graney was "brought in late into the conspiracy" and seen on a "very limited number of occasions", whereas his brother was involved throughout.

Mr Nutter said: "We've actually got conversations between him and his twin.

"What seems to be happening is his twin brother is welcoming him to the conspiracy and teaching him the ropes.

"My submission is he's there as a subservient entity to his brother, and there's nothing you will see that shows he's making executive decisions, or ordering anyone to do anything."

He suggested Paul Graney's role was therefore "considerably less than his brother" and belonged in a less serious "significant role" category in sentencing guidelines.

The lawyer added: "He's not – with respect – as heavy as his brother."

Mr Reid conceded that when the prosecution could not prove which brother was which, the court would have to find in Paul Graney's favour, which reduced his involvement to three occasions.

He agreed Paul Graney was "certainly below his brother in the hierarchy", but added: "He appears to be working alongside his brother."

Mr Reid said Graney's was "not necessarily a subservient role" but he "appeared on the scene" after the gang "suffered a number of setbacks, the arrest of several couriers and the seizure of large amounts of drugs".

Judge Brandon remanded Paul Graney in custody until his sentencing on July 22.

Barlow, of Latimer Street in Vauxhall; Joseph Graney, of Snowdon Lane, Vauxhall; and Foster, of Marnell Close, Vauxhall; all admitted their role in the two conspiracies.

Prosecutors said ringleader Barlow was seen in London "spending at will" with a wad of £50 notes and bought a £500 pair of shoes for Ms Gerrard.

His defence lawyer revealed the dad-of-one also contributed to youth and young men's football, plus the two churches in Everton.

Dominic Thomas said: "I could pass up letters from priests from the Society of Jesus that run St Xavier. He has made a financial contribution to those churches.

"He has been a significant figure in Shrewsbury House community centre in Everton. It will be disheartening for those to know where the money came from now."

Joseph Graney's lawyer said he was a construction worker with children, who became involved because of financial problems, while Foster's barrister said the "family man" was "an employee rather than a shareholder".

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Judge Alan Conrad, QC, who jailed Joseph Graney for 14 years and Foster for eight years, said the gang traded in hard drugs, causing misery and even death.

He said: "It is rare for a court to encounter trafficking at the level shown in this case. The quantities of drugs involved were vast.

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"Michael Barlow can be seen regularly discussing drugs, preparing drugs and counting huge amounts of cash he acquired as a result a lifestyle of significant luxury."

The ECHO understands Liam Mills is still at large.

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