TWO men have gone on trial accused of conspiring to supply firearms, ammunition and large qualities of illegal drugs.

Ramsbottom man Pasquelino Mazzuca was caught after a series of messages between him and Alexander Hepworth were discovered in which they discussed deliveries of cocaine, heroin and transporting weapons and ammunition, a jury at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court was told.

Outlining the case, Alaric Bassano, prosecuting, told the court how 52-year-old Mazzuca and Hepworth, aged 30, of Alden Road, Helmshore, have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine.

"But the Crown says those guilty pleas do not reflect the true extent of their criminal activity," said Mr Bassano.

Mazzuca and Hepworth both deny allegations of conspiracy to supply heroin between December 2018 and October 31, 2019. They had both also pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to transfer firearms and ammunition to another between December 13 2018 and May 2, 2019.

"The defendants deny these allegations. Both defendants say the Crown has misinterpreted the text messages and that neither was involved in the supply of heroin, or firearms and ammunition," said Mr Bassano.

"The Crown says the defendants are seeking to minimise their criminal involvement and that both are guilty."

The court heard how the alleged offences were discovered when Mazzuca's Holden Avenue, Ramsbottom, home was searched on October 30, 2019 and his mobile phone was seized and examined. Then, when Hepworth's address was raided on February 25, 2020 two encrypted chat phones were found.

Mr Bassano explained that Encro phones, which can cost up to £2,000 to buy and are often used by serious criminals because they can be extremely difficult for police to recover information from them. Police have not been able to recover data from either of Hepworth's phones.

"Such phones are not possessed by low ranking criminals or those engaged in low level criminality, rather they are the stock in trade of affluent, high-ranking criminals with the means to pay and the lucrative enterprise to protect," said Mr Bassano.

But messages were found on Mazzuca's phone in which it is alleged that Hepworth directed him to collect and deliver items throughout the UK, including visiting the ports at Harwich and Plymouth, and giving him a password to verify the identity of the person being met.

Mr Bassano said the messages also made references to Mazzuca's "wages", indicating Hepworth was the more senior of the two and that the long distances travelled by Mazzuca, requests for samples to be taken and references to money figures in the tens of thousands indicate the importation of large quantities of drugs.

"Importers do not trouble themselves with supplies of small quantities," said Mr Bassano.

The prosecution says the messages also refer to transporting firearms using phrases such as "straps", "the metal one with the things" and "that silver one".

"The defendants were evidently not talking about drugs. There are many instances of them using terms for drugs and these were discretely different," said Mr Bassano.

When questioned by police, Mazzuca remained silent. Hepworth also declined to answer questions but handed over a prepared statement denying involvement in drug trafficking and supplying ammunition and firearms as well as claiming to have no knowledge of encrypted phones or knowing Mazzuca.

The trial continues