TWO drug dealers who had planned to sell high-strength "skunk" cannabis at the World Cup in Germany have been jailed for a total of 14 years.
Police had launched an undercover investigation codenamed Operation Hornbeam to catch the men who were also selling cocaine and amphetamines across East Lancashire.
The operation unearthed a cannabis farm at a Blackburn warehouse and Preston Crown Court heard that the crop was destined for sale at the soccer tournament last summer.
The narcotics were sold to undercover officers at various places including a fast food restaurant, a car park in Accrington and the Last Orders pub in Oswaltwistle, where police first met the dealers.
Brian Fitzharris, 36, of Craven Street, Accrington, was jailed for nine years and Kevin Barski, 36, of George Street, Accrington, got five years.
They admitted a series of drug offences including conspiracy to cultivate cannabis and supplying amphetamine and cocaine. Fitzharris also admitted conspiracy to deliver counterfeit notes.
Two other Hyndburn men, Shaun Shorrock, 38, formerly of Queen Street, Clayton-le-Moors, and Kenneth Burrows, 62, of Alexander Close, Clayton-le-Moors, were given suspended 50-week jail sentences and ordered to do 100 hours community punishment. They admitted the conspiracy charge.
Preston Crown Court was told that police had found cannabis plants and equipment to grow the drug at the mill.
During the investigation officers were sold drugs and conversations with the dealers were taped.
Judge Pamela Badley said the police operation involved "serious drug offences" and the risk to the law enforcement officers had been great.
She told Fitzharris he had been trusted by others higher up the drug chain and that he had been prepared to make money.
She described his role as serious and important and added: "You were keen to be recognised as a major player in the drugs world. You were motivated by commercial considerations which came down to greed.
"You were a principal in the cannabis conspiracy. It was a cynical plan to make money."
Miss Alexandra Simmonds, prosecuting, told the court how Operation Hornbeam was set up in August 2005 and officers started frequenting the Last Orders pub on Union Road, Oswaldtwistle.
It was Barski who first supplied drugs while Fitzharris made it clear he could lay his hands on all drugs of all classes.
Fitzharris also talked about growing cannabis, saying he was in the process of setting up a skunk farm and had plants arriving.
The cannabis at the mill was capable of producing 1,223 grams with a street value of £5,064.
Keith Harrison, defending Fitzharris, said the drugs involved were not massive amounts. Fitzharris had boasted how big a dealer he was but had exaggerated his position. He was not at the top of the tree.
Mark Rhind, for Barski, said the father-of-four was not heavily involved and acted as the go-between. While in prison, his wife had filed for divorce and he had attempted to end his own life.
John Maxwell, defending Burrows, said he had been shunned following publicity about the case. He had rented the premises and had tried to distance himself at an early stage and wanted to get out of it. He had no part in tending to the drugs or their distribution.
Paul Humphreys, defending Shorrock, said his involvement was peripheral and limited. His part in the conspiracy was obtaining two skips for the clearance of the premises.
Blackburn man Michael Hartley was also jailed for three years three months for his involvement in the conspiracy.
Detective Inspector Dermott Horrigan said after the case: "These sentences should send a clear message to those who wish to engage in such destructive activity within our communities that their actions will not be tolerated and that, while the rewards may seem attractive, the reality is that they will be caught, convicted and sentenced to a significant term of imprisonment.
"Our aim is to engage with our communities in order to rid ourselves of this blight."