A major cocaine and gun supplier who fled abroad as police were set to arrest him was regularly beaten in a Dubai prison and was forced to brush his teeth with soap.
Leon Cullen used a false passport to abscond in 2018 as detectives closed the net around his organised crime group which he fronted with brother Anthony.
The Warrington siblings peddled high purity cocaine to Liverpool and other towns in the northwest and Wales, and had dealings with Merseyside associates.
But to try and escape justice, which led to his brother being handed a 27 year sentence in 2019, Leon managed to leave the UK and lay low for two years.
It was rumoured he spent time in Spain and Thailand, but he was eventually caught hiding in Dubai where he was arrested on January 3, 2020, with top law enforcement the National Crime Agency on his tail.
Today, his barrister Oliver Cook revealed some of the conditions his client experienced in the United Arab Emirates after he was detained at gunpoint.
It included being “severely beaten as a hood was placed on his head.”
Mr Cook added: “He was left for days in a dark room with a hood on his head.
“He was held in a cell with 50 other inmates.”
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Liverpool Crown Court heard how Cullen’s “head was shaved, he was forced to wear robes and sandals, he was regularly beaten by guards.
“He brushed his teeth with soap.
“He had been trying to effect his extradition to the UK for some time after he had been arrested in Dubai.
“I know that the consulate had been contacted on a number of occasions.
“When he was extradited, he was zip tied and put into the back of a car and handed over to the UK authorities.
“There is absolutely no criticism in the way the UK authorities acted.
“It may be in the court’s mind that he brought his confinement on himself by leaving the jurisdiction when he did.
“But nobody ought to be treated in the way he was treated, no matter what criminal offence they have committed.”
Cullen was today jailed for 22 years and six months for his fronting of a major gun and cocaine network which saw an alarming arsenal of weapons uncovered at a home on Rylands Drive in Warrington.
That included a functioning AK-series rifle, a pump-action shotgun, automatic pistols and revolvers as well as a silencer that was fitted to one of the automatic handguns.
Judge Gary Woodhall told Cullen, from Orford, he was not imposing a separate penalty for him going on the run for the two years.
But, in response to Mr Cook arguing his client had suffered hardship in a Dubai jail which should be taken into account, the judge replied: “I bear in mind the harsh regime you were held under in the United Arab Emirates.
“Although some would say you only have yourself to blame having fled there to evade justice in this country.”
A Serious Crime Prevention Order is being sought by police against Cullen and a separate Proceeds of Crime application is now underway to try and recover some of his ill-gotten gains.
When informed of this, Cullen, on video-link from Manchester Prison, told the judge: “No problem, your Honour.”
Mr Cook claimed his client “intends to better himself in custody and on his release to become a productive member of society.”
But a judge told Cullen there was “little personal mitigation” on his behalf.
Leon was responsible for the supply of very high-purity cocaine, about 50kg in total, and used the gun stash to enforce the gang’s reputation, often intimidating customers or associates who owned him, and his brother money.
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Liverpool Crown Court heard how Leon, while working on a level with Anthony, had a different role, and was in contact with gangland figures higher up the hierarchy, who supplied the cocaine.
“You had close links to the original source,” Judge Woodhall said.
Cullen, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply firearms, conspiracy to possess ammunition and conspiracy to supply cocaine, was handed ten and a half years for the cocaine supply and 12 years for the gun possession and transfer.
Vehicles were used to transport the drugs, including a car which had a secret hide, which was controlled by a device linked to the cigarette lighter.
While Leon and his brother Anthony hailed from Warrington, they had substantial links to criminals in Liverpool including Lee Stoba, a drugs boss who ran his own illegal business while behind bars at HMP Altcourse in Fazakerley.
One of the Cullen guns, a 9mm self-loading pistol, was previously used in a shooting at a house on Rose Avenue, Bootle, when a round was fired into the curtained living room where the occupier was present, on August 20, 2015.
Judge Gary Woodhall told him: “It’s perfectly clear to me that those further down the chain of command who were carrying out the day-to-day activities either had properties provided for them or their rent paid.”
One conspirator bragged that he would earn £10,000 every three months.
Judge Woodhall added: “There was a clear hierarchical structure to the group.
“You employed only those that showed themselves to be trustworthy.
“Your gang used threats and actual intimidation.
“Those at the top of the conspiracy, in particular you and your brother, were willing to and did resort to violence and intimidation.”
One conspirator was beaten up in Sankey Valley Park after losing their trust, and the judge said: “You and your brother used your reputation around Warrington to exert influence on those involved.”
“Even when you were in prison, having been recalled on a previous licence, you were able to source and have access to a telephone – allowing you to continue to control the group’s activities.
“You were able to evade the police when they struck to arrest those involved.
“You obtained a false passport that allowed you to flee the country and remain at large for two years.”
The gun haul found in Warrington was the biggest firearms seizure in Cheshire Police’s history.
When the gang were sentenced in court in 2019, they received prison sentences totalling 185 years.
Leon, who was previously handed a jail sentence in 2015 of just over nine years for cocaine dealing, was on licence when he got involved in the most recent drug and gun offences.