THE leader of a nationwide drug trafficking group which has caused "incalculable" harm to North Wales communities has been jailed for 21 years.

Colin Jones, aged 49 and of no fixed abode, appeared at Mold Crown Court on Wednesday - the first of what is expected to three days of sentencing in respect of Jones and 17 others involved in the large scale county lines drug operation.

The court heard Jones was the "head man" in charge of the scheme and that he "masterminded all aspects" of the lucrative business.

Andrew Craig Jones, prosecuting, said the sale model was simple and involved one call handler taking orders on the "echo line" - a phone line via which drugs were requested from various parts of the UK.

Following an order, a third party would deliver the drugs, which included heroin and cocaine.

At some point the model changed to include a daily message to all of the line's contacts to advertise the substances available.

The Merseyside-based organisation's drug supply was confirmed to have reached dealers and sub-dealers in areas in Scotland, Southern England and North Wales - specifically the Deeside and Anglesey areas.

In all, the total value of the drugs traded by Jones' group is estimated to have reached more than £2 million.

Andrew Craig Jones said: "The echo line was extremely busy and profitable for Mr Jones.

"The organised crime group controlled a significant proportion of the drugs trade in Deeside, in particular the Connah's Quay area.

"They operated covertly and successfully for a significant period of time.

"Between April and July 2018 there were 160,000 calls on the echo line.

"Of those, 109,000 were incoming - that is 109,000 requests for drugs.

"But this trail is not only about drugs. It is about how they operate.

"They are ruthless and when they perceive they have been crossed they are prepared to use extreme violence to ensure no one would stand in their way."

Mr Jones referred to an incident in which Colin Jones and subordinate David James Rawlings threatened the life of a fellow gang member - an offence the pair were found guilty of at a trial in Mold at the end of July.

The court heard how the gang continued operating despite several arrests and seizures of high value quantities of drugs, as well as cash.

Police in Scotland and the south of England intercepted several packages containing drugs which gang members had attempted to send via Royal Mail.

Significantly, police searched the home of gang member Jack Jones and found drugs worth up to £174,000, as well as more than 51kg of mixing agent, which the court heard illustrated the "industrial" scale of the operation.

Between them, Jones' gang possessed more than 50 phones and were highly conscious of the possibility of being monitored - to the extant that some members even had encrypted phones 'similar to those used by the military and security services'.

In addressing the case as a whole, Judge Niclas Parry said: "The harm done to communities - and I have regard for North East Wales - is incalculable.

"It was a conspiracy - each conspirator knew they were assisting others in their criminality.

"They controlled a significant proportion of the drug trade in Deeside, a community blighted by the consequences of drug dependency.

"The reality is that in cases such as these, it is impossible to be accurate as to the total number of transactions and meetings between members."

Sentencing Colin Jones, the judge said: "You were the controlling mind of the conspiracy.

"The business was lucrative - you operated from a secure based in the North West of England and owned two houses, three lodges and many top-end motor vehicles."

Judge Parry sentenced Jones to a total of 21 years imprisonment for the various drugs offences and conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.

Also sentenced on Wednesday were 33-year-old Steven Edward Dooly and 31-year-old Shaun Ryan Carl Dooley - both of no fixed abode and both in relation to a string of drugs offences connected with the gang.

The judge told them: "You were both close trusted members of the organised criminal group.

"In various guises you were responsible for managing day-to-day activities, particularly in North Wales.

"You both had a high level significant role and were fully aware that this was a very big operation."

Shaun Dooley received a total of nine years jail time and Steven Dooley received eight.

Michael Bagley, defending for Shaun Dooley, said his client had fallen "into the wrong group" after becoming indebted and turning to crime.

He said there was no evidence to suggest the 31-year-old was in the gang's "inner circle".

Charles Lander, defending for Steven Dooley, said his client would be disappointed to be separating from his two children.

Up next for sentencing were 28-year-old Jack Jones, of Rimrose Valley Road in Crosby, and 50-year-old Keith Furmedge, of Elstead Road in Liverpool.

Henry Hills, defending for Furmedge, said: "There's no doubt Mr Furmedge is very familiar with the world of drugs. He is a longstanding addict.

"There is no evidence he had any direct financial gain."

Charlotte Kenny, defending for Jack Jones, told the court her client had not been in a management role, and is not a sophisticated criminal.

The judge told Jones: "You were one of the principal national drug distributors - your role can only be described as the very top end of significant."

Jones received a total jail sentence of seven-and-a-half years for numerous drug related offences.

Judge Parry told Furmedge: "You were a trusted member of Colin Jones' organised criminal group.

"Drugs were stored and prepared for supply at your address and you can be directly connected to drugs intercepted in Scotland."

Furmedge was sentenced to a total of ten-and-a-half years imprisonment.

The sentencings continue on Thursday morning.