Preston Criminal Drug Gang Sentenced to Almost 60 Years

A Preston organised crime group have been sentenced to a total of almost 60 years in prison after an investigation by Lancashire Constabulary.

The investigation conducted, which was known to Police as ‘Operation Whistler’, was an investigation into the supply of huge quantities of Class A drugs – heroin and cocaine – and money laundering in Preston and the surrounding area.

The gang’s kingpin Niall McFarlane, known as ‘Rawbear’ to his associates, sourced the drugs wholesale which were then distributed to other members of the OCG who adulterated the product before selling it on to users through ‘drug lines’, phone numbers used to advertise drugs for sale.

The gang used an encrypted mobile phone network called Encrochat to communicate with each other and conduct their deals.  

The Encrochat servers were taken down in 2020 following a huge and long-running investigation led by the National Crime Agency – Operation Venetic.

Operation Whistler was launched by Detectives in 2019 and through months of painstaking work pulled together the evidence to show how McFarlane and his gang were sourcing and selling on the drugs.  

McFarlane and six other members of the OCG were sentenced this week to a total of almost 60 years behind bars. An eighth member of the gang was given a suspended sentence.

Det Con Richard Shires said: “This was a significant and complex investigation that has culminated in a number of people sentenced to nearly 60 years behind bars.

“This OCG, who were based mainly in Preston, brought misery to the streets of the city and beyond by dealing Class A drugs. Their sole motivation was financial gain and with no thought for the impact on others.

“We know the destruction that drug dealing brings to our communities. Drugs destroy lives and those involved in the supply of drugs have no regard for the lives they affect and the harm they can cause, and we are committed to pursuing those involved in serious and organised crime and bringing them to justice. 

“These sentences, following a lengthy and complex investigation, show the level of our commitment and how seriously this type of activity is viewed by the courts. I am delighted that these sentences will see dangerous people removed from the streets of Lancashire for a considerable period and I hope that our communities feel reassured that we are taking positive action and will continue to support us in our efforts to take the fight to criminals and make our streets safer.”


Niall McFarlane, 29, Maxy House Road, Preston – 11 years three months

Pritesh Chohan, 29, Lyndon Close, Preston – 10 years

Ben Sanders, 31, Lovat Road, Preston – nine years six months

Daniel Quinn, 30, Holme Slack Lane, Preston – nine years

Steven Crook, 31, Westfield Drive, Preston – seven years six months

Owen Collier, 23, Woodacre Road, Preston – five years four months

Daniel Hughes, 38, Lovat Road, Preston – four years

Ethan Knowles, 21, Maple Grove, Preston – two years suspended

All the above with the exception of Knowles admitted Conspiracy to Supply Cocaine, Conspiracy to Supply Heroin and Money laundering. Knowles pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Supply Cocaine and Conspiracy to Supply Heroin.

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