A former youth volunteer worker jailed for 12 years after playing a ‘significant’ role in a ‘high level’ drugs gang was a well known anti-extremism campaigner.
Zaheer Mahmood, of Persia Street, Accrington, was found guilty following a trial of two counts of possessing prohibited firearms and one count of possessing ammunition, and conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
Nadeem Abbas was also jailed for 10 years and six months after being convicted of the same offences.
Mahmood worked as a project coordinator for the Hyndburn Cultural Association to promote anti-extremism among youngsters.
The scheme received the backing and support of Hyndburn council and involved working with the Muslim community to tackle any illegal activities.
Hyndburn councillor and group chairman Munsif Dad said he was ‘shocked’ to hear of his prison sentence.
He told the Observer: “Through that project we got to know Zaheer and he was a very competent worker and very reliable and the results showed for themselves.
“It really is a shock and saddens me to hear he has been sent down for these sort of offences. If you get in with the wrong kind of people then sadly it will end up in disappointment, which it has.
“He was working with youngsters at the time and did outreach into the community, going to schools and youth centres, and was involved in taking kids on residentials and giving them some experience to teach them the right path. He tried to bring kids of all backgrounds together to share their experiences and ask questions about each other social and cultural backgrounds to gain a better understanding.”
The court heard that Mahmood was the ‘trusted right hand man’ in the operation and had control over £123,000 worth of heroin and weaponry.
The taxi driver and father-of-two also helped involve Abbas, 39, who came to play an ‘operational role’, by arranging accommodation for him next door on Persia Street.
Mahmood, 34, and Abbas were found guilty after a trial of two counts of possessing prohibited firearms and one count of possessing ammunition.
Mahmood was also found guilty of conspiracy to supply class A drugs. Abbas had earlier pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Preston Crown Court heard that police observations of an organised crime group in Bradford resulted in Mahmood and Abbas being seen collecting a box with 25kg of cutting agent. When officers executed a warrant on Persia Street they also found 1.86kg of heroin, £40,690 in cash, masks and a hydraulic press.
Sara Dodd, prosecuting, told the court how they also found a pistol with the firing pin missing, a silencer and ammunition under Abbas’ bed.
She said: “They were a significant part of this organised crime group and they were there to be used to enforce debts and to protect the stash of cash and drugs.”
Geraldine Kelly, defending Mahmood, said he carried out a ‘limited role under direction’ and had ‘no influence on others in the chain’.
She told the court how Mahmood, who campaigns against extremism, was previously a ‘mentor for youths to stop them going on the wrong path’ and is ‘spoken highly of in the community’.
She said: “This offending is shocking to them as it is totally outside of any behaviour they have ever witnessed in the time they have seen and known him.”
Yunus Valli, defending Abbas, said he had been ‘exploited by others to do their dirty work’ as he had ‘overstayed’ on his visa.
He told the court how Abbas was ‘unable to resist the pressure of seasoned criminal acquaintances’ and was ‘very easily influenced, led and pressured into doing what he did’.
Mr Valli said the drugs and gun were not Abbas’, he didn’t have any influence and is remorseful.
Judge Graham Knowles QC said he ‘emphatically disagreed’ that Mahmood and Abbas had only ‘lesser roles’ in the drugs gang.
Sentencing, he said Mahmood was a ‘trusted right hand man’, arranged Abbas’ accommodation and drove them in his taxi to get the cutting agent.
Judge Knowles said he had ‘control of the weaponry’ and that a lack of fingerprint evidence on ‘anything incriminating’ showed he could keep his ‘hands off’ and leave the ‘majority risk’ to Abbas.
He said: “It must have seemed easy and that’s the wickedness of getting involved in the drugs trade and prey on the degraded and addicted at a safe distance, protected by where you live and who you engage.
“The gun was there, the ammunition was there to enforce the drugs business.”
Judge Knowles said Abbas was a ‘willing participant’ and was not ‘naive and exploited’ as he did it for ‘comfort, money and a house at least’.
He said: “Drugs have an appalling impact on an enormous number of people, those who take them, those who are victims of dealers and get into debt with dealers.
“When people like you get involved with crime at this kind of level there has to be substantial punishment.”