Grandmother, 55, is unmasked as gangland 'Mrs Big' after police raid home

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A grandmother has been jailed after her secret double life cooking drugs in her kitchen then smuggling them into prison soaked into pen pal letters was exposed.

Cleaning manager Gail Cotton, 55, brewed zombie drug Spice in her house before impregnating it into sheets of paper as gangland ‘Mrs Big’.

The drug-drenched documents were then mocked up as pen pal notes so to avoid suspicion from authorities at jails in Liverpool and Scotland.

Cotton was arrested after an actual paper trail led to her door in Oldham, Greater Manchester, and raiding police uncovered an Aladdin’s cave of narcotics.

Minshull Street Crown Court was told yesterday detectives found cannabis, cocaine, MDMA and drug distribution equipment hidden around her kitchen and a utility room. Recipes for making Spice were dotted around the £148,000 property.

Between August and November last year, she imported ingredients for the drugs from China into the UK via a contact based in Australia known as “Aussie Joe”’ before setting up her kitchen as a base for her illicit production line. 

Police say she sold on the ‘spice paper’ to inmates at jails in Liverpool and Scotland with text messages showing her arranging deals with buyers. One asked ‘How much for a book’? for her to reply: ‘Can’t do books, they do not dry properly, papers will be clear.”

Cleaning manager Gail Cotton, 55, brewed zombie drug Spice in her kitchen in Oldham

Cleaning manager Gail Cotton, 55, brewed zombie drug Spice in her kitchen in Oldham

Gail Cotton's home in Oldham where police raided and found up to £80,000 of drugs

Gail Cotton’s home in Oldham where police raided and found up to £80,000 of drugs

The drugs seized from her home would have made up to £80,000 if sold by inmates on the prison wings due to upscaled demand for the drug.

Cotton admitted drug smuggling and producing Spice and was jailed for three years.

Until now she had been known locally for helping her daughter complete a 10k Race for Life event, but was detained in November 2020 after police executed a search warrant at 6.45am following a tip off.

Prosecutor Miss Verity Quaite said: “Officers asked the defendant if there was anything in the property that he should be aware of. She let him in and told him there was cocaine under the sink, but the defendant said that the drugs were not hers.

“Police found 50.6 grams of cocaine at over 85% purity in a tub – equating to £6,000 then found another tub containing MDMA of 81% purity equating to between £10,400-£14,000. Police continued to search the property and found empty snap bags, digital scales and £500 in cash. Five SIM cards were also retrieved.

“Fourteen grams of designer cannabis was also found under the sink, equating to the value of £160 and in the outer building, 940 grams of spice was found, which had a value of between £4,080 – £9,400.

Police also found instructions on how to mix spice plus 105 grams of synthetic powder and acetone were also discovered. Police originally did not appreciate the significance of the acetone but there were a number of empty bags of acetone in the backyard.

“Police returned later to the property at 12:30pm but by this time, this had been removed. The defendant’s daughter had been at the property in the interim.”

Spice, pictured here, was made into a liquid form and soaked in papers sent to prison penpals

Spice, pictured here, was made into a liquid form and soaked in papers sent to prison penpals

Gran’s £80,000 seized drugs haul revealed 

Among Gail Cotton’s £80,000 stash were specific quantities of drugs that would make more when cut and sold.

They included: 

– 59.6 grams of cocaine with valued at £6,000

– 355 grams of MDMA valued at £14,200

– 13.99 grams of cannabis with valued at £140

– 940 grams of spice valued at £9,400  

Miss Quaite added: “One of the investigators said the defendant had a leading role in the conspiracy to supply spice. She was importing the ingredients from China needed to make spice and had been in conversation with a contact in Australia via telephone.

“It is possible he is a level above the defendant who said she would let others mix the drug when she was not there but said it was ‘her business’. She sold the spice paper in Liverpool and as far as Scotland and sold it into prisons.

“Text messages say the ingredients were imported from China and are described as being pure white like Sherbet. On 4 Oct 2020, someone asked what was taking so long for the chemicals from China to come. The defendant did not arrange for them to be delivered to her property.

“The value of spice in prison is up to four times higher than the value on the street value. Between £60-80k is a conservative value estimate for f the drugs involved on this case. She was involved in the supply to customers around the UK, in Liverpool and Scotland.

Cotton gave no comment in police interview. In mitigation defence counsel Rick Holland admitted: “This must be classified as a leading role. There is no argument to the level of harm and aggravating features to supply into prisons, I take no issues with that.

“She was working part-time as a cleaner. She had not abandoned that job, there were others that were involved, hence why this is a conspiracy. There may be others above her – that is a real possibility and there is nothing on her record that aggravates her position.

“She is aware she will face a custodial sentence but she is not well equipped for what she will face.”

Sentencing Cotton, Judge Tina Landale told her: “You were producing spice as a profitable business knowing some of it would be sent into prison. Spice in prison causes very serious harm indeed.

“Firstly, for the prisoners, as well as the intimidation and bullying it causes family members to bring it into prison and also for the staff inside the prison. It has repercussion for the whole community. For the staff inside prisons it causes lawlessness, problem behaviour, disorder and aggression.

“I have to look at the overall position of your role and the harm you have caused. This was aggravated because of the level of profit. I take into account everything I have read and everything that I know about you. There are a significant number of family members who will suffer as a result of your actions.”

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