A GANG peddling deadly former legal highs across the Lothians has been snared by an undercover police operation and jailed for a total of 12 years.
The gang members were caught with hauls of mephedrone and pentedrone totalling seven kilos and carrying a street value of more than £100,000.
Police chiefs today said the gang was targeted in a covert operation by the Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit.
Ringleader Ryan Moore, 25, and his three cohorts had admitted to being concerned in the supply of the Class B drugs before being hit with the sentences.
The jail terms were welcomed by Edinburgh West MSP Colin Keir who highlighted the “serious damage” wrought by the drugs on society.
Mephedrone – also known as “meow meow” and “bubble” – was linked to 25 deaths in the UK while classed as a legal high before the substance was outlawed in April 2010.
Undercover police officers on surveillance against the gang watched Moore, from Musselburgh, East Lothian, pass large quantities of pentedrone to his co-accused.
On December 21 last year, Moore was seen handing a package to 33-year-old Robert Dimelow in the Niddrie area.
When 33-year-old Dimelow was later stopped at the Cameron Toll shopping centre car park, a kilo of pentedrone was found in his van. A search of his Edinburgh home uncovered a further two kilos of the drug.
The following day, Moore was seen outside his Musselburgh home handing a package to a man in a car.
The car was later stopped on the M9, near Kirkliston, and 31-year-old Daniel Tucker, from St Andrews, and 25-year-old Craig Steen, from Dundee, were found with two kilos of pentedrone.
After earlier admitting their guilt at the High Court in Edinburgh, Moore, Dimelow and Tucker received jail terms while Steen was sentenced to carry out a 240 hours community pay back order.
Moore was sent to prison for six years and nine months, Dimelow for three years and nine months, and Tucker for two years and three months at the High Court in Glasgow on Monday.
Detective Superintendent David Gordon, of Police Scotland, said: “This was a covert intelligence-led investigation carried out by officers from the Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit.
“It successfully removed a crime group and a large quantity of Class B drugs from circulation, thereby removing harm from communities and demonstrating Police Scotland’s commitment to keeping people safe.
“Working jointly with colleagues in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and other agencies, Police Scotland will continue to target those who seek to bring drugs into our communities, and bring them to justice.”
Colin Keir, MSP for Edinburgh West, said: “The legal system needs to put together a situation where those convicted of peddling drugs are given the longest sentences possible.
“We know about the serious damage that such drugs can do to society and I’m pleased that the police are treating catching drug dealers as a priority.”
Drug that was deadly linked to a series of deaths
Mephedrone was banned after being blamed for a series of deaths, although it later emerged that a number of the fatalities were linked to other forms of drug abuse.
In March 2010, Crew 2000, the drug support agency, said that the substance had far outstripped cocaine or Ecstasy in the speed with which it has become widely used. Before its ban a month later, mephedrone was sold as a “legal high”, but given its potency and side effects it was made a Class B drug.
The drug has been linked to depression and other mental health problems, insomnia, palpitations, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
Police made at least five arrests in Lothian related to mephedrone in the first month it was banned.
Pentedrone is a stimulant where users have reported effects similar to taking Ecstasy and cocaine.