David Wain: The supplier of chemicals for cocaine

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs correspondent

Image caption,
David Wain: Online and looking for love - or alternatively, customers for chemicals

One of the most significant distributors of chemical cutting agents used in the Class A drugs business has been jailed by Reading Crown Court for 12 years. David Wain has also become the first person to be convicted of supplying GBL, a recently-banned "legal high".

The case shed light on a bizarre criminal world - and one man's importance to serious organised crime.

David Wain posted to his online dating profile that he didn't like liars.

But now he's in jail for being one himself - denying that his massive trade in chemicals had anything to do with drugs.

This unassuming West London man traded from his own flat and an outbuilding at his mother's house. He led an apparently quiet and banal existence.

"I am rather shy as person [sic] especially with girls, so please make allowances (limited experience)," he wrote on his MySpace page.

But that was nothing but a front. Behind the scenes David Wain was, in the language of drugs investigators, a "nexus" in the sale of drugs on British streets.

His trial has been the largest to date relating to the supply of "cutting agents" - and he has become the first person to be convicted of supplying GBL.

David Wain operated a company called Sourceachem. He imported chemicals and sold them to UK buyers. His chief trade was selling cutting agents for drugs, including the anaesthetic benzocaine.

Image caption,
Chemical barrels: Wain stored benzocaine at his mother's house

Cutting agents are used to increase profits for drug dealers. For example, if a gang mixes 1kg of cocaine with 1kg of a cutting agent, then profits are increased because the cocaine goes further.

If supply of the drug tightens (or demand suddenly increases) then cutting agents become even more important to gangs, leading to lower and lower purity of the drugs sold to users.

In one year, police believe Wain brought in more than 17 tonnes of cutting agents, including 7,000kg of benzocaine, passing it to at least seven gangs operating across the UK.

He imported almost as much benzocaine as the entire legitimate UK market.

Marked man

Wain's activities first came under police suspicion in 2006 - but at the time the Metropolitan Police had no evidence of a crime.

But drugs detectives and the Serious Organised Crime Agency continued to watch his business - and in August 2008 they decided to confront him.

Soca investigators arrested Wain and told him he needed to stop some of his imports because of their use in the drugs market.

The key question for the investigators was who were Wain's customers? And, in turn, what was their business?

When officers met Wain in August 2008 he turned out to be not only uncooperative, he flatly denied having any customer base at all. This was a position he kept up throughout his eventual police interviews, giving no comment answers.

But as soon as Soca let him go, he began expanding the business and failed to take steps to keep it legitimate.

Over the course of the next year, the barrels of chemicals continued to be stacked high in his mother's outbuilding.

Between the Soca visit and his charging a year later, he banked almost £400,000 in cash. None of this went on a stereotypical lavish drug trade lifestyle. He did virtually nothing with the money, living in a small flat, not taking fancy holidays or even investing in a decent car.

Tracking the chemicals

Wain left little by way of a paper trail. He had an accountancy qualification - and he recorded inconsequential daily expenses, such as 42p on chocolate. But when it came to his clients, there was no giant ledger.

Records for his bulk sales customers lacked proper names and addresses. One customer was listed as "Steve", another as "RP".

Soca followed the trail from these limited notes and records of numbers called from Wain's phone. None of the bulk sales could be linked to legitimate businesses. They did, however, provide links to seven gangs operating in Dorset, South Wales and Scotland.

Trevor Symes, a senior Soca investigator, said David Wain thought he wouldn't be caught. He focused on importing apparently legitimate chemicals - and tried to cover his tracks.

"People paid him in cash, he only had telephone numbers, he only had code names and they turned up in the middle of the night and took the chemicals away," said Mr Symes. "It was hardly the mark of a legitimate businessman."

"He was trying to work in the grey margin between illegitimate and legitimate trade."

Much of the credit for Wain's successful conviction lies in the development of new tactics for combating organised crime designed to disrupt business rather than chasing arrests alone.

Under Operation Kitley, the UK Border Agency and Soca stop key cutting agents at ports and incinerate the goods if the importer cannot prove they have a legitimate end use.

Secondly, Wain was convicted of encouraging and assisting a crime - an offence created under the Serious Crime Act 2007, which is designed to target people who help gangs but may not be involved in the end offence.

Mr Symes said: "Even after we warned him, he began bringing in more tonnes of chemicals. He felt the law did not apply to him. He knew, and he knew full well, that he was importing chemicals for drugs on a massive scale."

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