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Four more sentenced for major South West drugs conspiracy

Michele Bray, James Hele, Robert Dent and Kate Dent
Michele Bray, James Hele, Robert Dent and Kate Dent

*** This following release is issued by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit ***

Four people were sentenced at Bristol Crown Court on Friday (6 October) for their roles in a major drugs conspiracy that saw at least £3 million worth of cocaine supplied from London and the East Midlands to the South West.

Seven people have already been sentenced to a total of 60 years at previous hearings as part of the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) investigation.

Robert Dent, 43, from Willinton Road, Knowle West, and James Hele, 38, from Holroyd House, Somerset Terrace, Bedminster, both pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to supply at least 46kg of cocaine with a street value of £1.65 million and conspiracy to transfer criminal property, namely cash.

Dent, together with his wife Kate Dent, 42, also pleaded guilty to concealing £46,000 cash found when their home was searched and using criminal money to pay for improvements to their home. Robert Dent also pleaded guilty to possession of an electronic shock device.

Robert Dent was sentenced to a total of 12 years and James Hele to 11 years.

Michelle Bray, 37, from Bedminster, partner of James Hele, pleaded guilty alongside Kate Dent in July to being concerned in a criminal arrangement – they both admitted collecting and moving cocaine and money.

Kate Dent was sentenced to two years suspended for 18 months and Michelle Bray to 20 months suspended for 18 months.

The SWROCU investigation is one of many across the UK that followed the takedown of EncroChat in 2020 by European law enforcement agencies. EncroChat was an encrypted messaging service widely used by organised crime groups.

In the first trial, last year, Romaine Hyman from Bath was sentenced to 26 years after being found guilty of 18 offences including drugs and money laundering conspiracies and firearms offences. EncroChat messages on his phone showed him boasting to his contacts that his gun had “a silencer…the whole shebang”.

EncroChat messages, combined with other evidence, show at least 46kg of cocaine was delivered to Willinton Close in 1kg blocks where it was divided into smaller amounts. Cocaine residue was found on Dent’s kitchen scales and blender, and three black containers containing a common adulterant for cocaine were found.

Senior Investigating Officer DCI Charlotte Tucker said: “These are the latest in a series of significant sentences handed down to organised criminals who were making huge amounts of money supplying class A drugs across our region and into Wales.

“The footage of Robert Dent from his home CCTV cameras shows how busy he was – receiving, storing and distributing kilo blocks of cocaine and thousands of pounds in cash, assisted by the other three.

“Our work isn’t over on this case and we are determined to find Christopher Barbosa, an associate of Dent, and are asking for any information the public can provide to help us put him back in front of the court to face the serious charges against him.”

Robert Earl, Unit Head for the CPS, said: “Drugs destroy lives and are a blight on communities. 

“These four offenders each played their part in this serious organised criminality which affected the South West region.

“The CPS worked closely and effectively with the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit over several years to dismantle this organised crime group, building a strong case and bringing the offenders involved to justice.”