When Sophie Plowman told her drug kingpin boyfriend that she was an ‘innocent party’ his response was to laugh.

It was May 2021. Richard Gray was running a successful drugs operation, using a fake courier business and a specially-adapted Fiat van to make it easier to pick-up and drop off kilos of cocaine during covid lockdowns.

But unknown to Gray, the police were already on his tail. Months earlier, French police had managed to crack into the heavily-encrypted ‘Encrochat’ branded phones that Gray – and thousands of other criminals across the continent – were using to communicate with each other with relative impunity.

Police in France handed a dossier over to the National Crime Agency who, in turn, informed Thames Valley Police’s organised crime squad that Gray was using the ‘Encro’ phone to set up deals with top tier suppliers in the north of England. They included one, codenamed Greymoon, who appeared to be arranging deals from his jail cell.

Gray was no stranger to the trade. In 2015, he and older brother Patrick were jailed for dealing heroin, crack cocaine and cocaine. Richard got three-and-a-half years. Patrick was still behind bars when his younger brother began working with the suppliers in the north in 2020.

A family man with a long-term partner and children in Witney, Richard Gray began chatting with single mum Sophie Plowman on social media.

Plowman, now 28, was recovering from what the court heard was an abusive former relationship. Gray was different – calm and kind. They began a relationship of sorts; intimate, although he almost never seemed to stay the night.

She knew he had children from another relationship, but thought that was over. He lived in Chipping Norton, she thought, although she never visited his home.

On both counts, he had lied. He was still living with his long-term partner – but in Witney, not Chipping Norton.

He was, summarised Judge Michael Gledhill KC, a ‘professional drug dealer, serial philanderer and a nasty piece of work’.

Oxford Mail: Richard Gray's custody shot Picture: TVPRichard Gray's custody shot Picture: TVP (Image: Thames Valley Police)

Two years on, and standing in the witness box in Oxford Crown Court’s courtroom three, Plowman was asked how she felt: “Betrayed. I think he’s a really unkind, unpleasant person. [The] complete opposite of the picture I had of him at the beginning.”

Then still together and the picture of happiness, she had asked Gray what he wanted for his birthday. A baby, he replied. When, later, she fell pregnant, he was said to have reacted in anger – saying the time was not right and he did not need another child.

The first she knew that Gray had been using her flat for months as a place to store his drugs was when she was arrested in a dawn raid on her housing association property in Songthrush Road, Bodicote, in late May last year. She was separated from her young son and held in a cell until her interview at 10pm that night.

That, at least, was what she told the jury.

But the 12-strong panel rejected her claim that she knew nothing of Gray’s drugs enterprise, taking barely an afternoon to convict her on Thursday of conspiring to supply cocaine.


The prosecution said Plowman’s role in the conspiracy was plain. Her flat was where the cocaine was taken to be stored or processed after it was picked up by Gray or his couriers from suppliers in Bury.

Surveillance officers variously saw Gray arriving or leaving the flat with bags. On one occasion, a supplier’s flunky dropped a gas cannister off near the property that, when the Gray brothers managed to open it with an angle grinder, contained 12kgs of cocaine.

And when detectives smashed through the doors of Plowman’s flat, they discovered 2.5kgs of cocaine behind the ‘kick board’ underneath a kitchen cabinet, as well as a gym bag containing a ‘drugs packaging kit’ with digital scales, a heat sealer and gloves.

Oxford Mail: Plowman lived on Songthrush Road, Bodicote Picture: GOOGLEPlowman lived on Songthrush Road, Bodicote Picture: GOOGLE (Image: Thames Valley Police)

Plowman claimed to know nothing of the drugs allegedly being stored at her flat, telling the jury she would have called the police if she had found cocaine in the property.

Given 2.5kgs of cocaine was worth as much as £100,000, that meant Richard Gray was running a huge risk by storing the drugs at his innocent girlfriend’s flat, prosecutor Michael Roques told jurors.

He said: “The evidence in this case can only be sensibly explained by the fact that this defendant knew exactly what was going on.”

Quizzing the defendant over two days, Mr Roques admitted of Gray: “He was an unpleasant and an unkind man and he used you. That is now apparent. You’ll get no disagreement from me. He undoubtedly used you, but I say you knew exactly what was going on at the time and you say you didn’t?”

“Yes,” she replied.

‘Chicken and broccoli’

Plowman claimed that gym-mad Gray had come to collect high-protein food that she prepared, his washed gym kit or even energy drinks. They had had sex when he visited the flat and they developed a coded language in order to prevent her son from learning of their intimate conversation, she said.

The prosecution, however, said that the bags Gray picked up contained drugs – taken before he made trips to ‘downstream’ customers in Milton Keynes, Swindon and elsewhere, and their conversation included coded references to preparing cocaine.

Mr Roques, for the Crown, noted that on one visit, Gray had made a 45 minute trip to her flat, stayed outside for four or five minutes and disappeared after she handed him a ‘laden’ orange shopping bag. He then went to the home of another involved in the conspiracy.

He said: “I’m going to suggest to you he hasn’t done that to pick up some chicken and broccoli. He’s not going to have done an hour and 45 minute round trip to pick up lunch, is he?”

“He did, on a regular basis,” she hit back.

In a telephone conversation, picked up by the audio bug in Gray’s Fiat van, Plowman was heard offering to ‘have everything ready’ for her boyfriend when he called ahead of an unannounced visit.

“This is ‘get the drugs out from under the kitchen cabinet’, isn’t it?” the prosecutor put to her. She replied: “No.”

Before Gray arrived at the flat, she warned him of two men who had been hanging around – adding they were ‘probably smoking a spliff’. She offered to check if they were still there.

When the prosecutor suggested that it was a reference to an undercover police officer nearby, Plowman replied: “Smoking a spliff?”

She said she had mentioned the men’s presence as she wanted to ‘avoid it kicking off’. With a furrowed brow, Mr Roques described the defendant’s former boyfriend as a ‘big unit’. “He’s tall and he’s broad and he lifts weights. So he’s not going to be concerned about somebody smoking a spliff.”  

In apparent support that it was a reference to an undercover police officer, in the bugged phone call Plowman added: “I wouldn’t know because it’s not my thing. It’s your thing. I told you, I’m just an innocent party in all of this.”

Gray’s reaction was to laugh. “The concept you are innocent in all this is quite simply funny to him,” Mr Roques said.

Oxford Mail: The hiding place in Richard Gray's specially-converted Fiat Doblo van Picture: CPS/TVPThe hiding place in Richard Gray's specially-converted Fiat Doblo van Picture: CPS/TVP (Image: Crown Prosecution Service, Thames Valley Police)


The jury heard that, over around six months more than £24,000 in cash had been paid in and out of Plowman’s bank account at various branches across Oxfordshire.

The defendant admitted paying cash in for Gray, but denied knowing the money came from drugs.

On May 13, 2021, he drove her to Banbury town centre as he wanted her to pay £2,500 into her bank account before transferring it to him.

A bug in the Fiat van caught snippets of their conversation before she went into the Barclays branch. “I’m not coming into the bank no more after this,” she said. “I don’t like it. I feel like I’m being watched.”

Plowman claimed to have been helping him avoid paying tax, rather than laundering drugs cash. Totting up the total amount paid in – more than £24,000 – the prosecutor asked: “Did you think all of that cash was being generated by his work as a courier?” She replied: “I did.”

Of the £24,000, around £12,000 was paid in over little more than a fortnight – although it followed a significant gap when no cash was deposited.

Oxford Mail: Richard and Patrick Gray had a base at Lower Whitley Farm, near Farmoor Reservoir, where they were filmed by a police surveillance team Picture: TVP/CPSRichard and Patrick Gray had a base at Lower Whitley Farm, near Farmoor Reservoir, where they were filmed by a police surveillance team Picture: TVP/CPS (Image: TVP)


For Plowman, defence barrister Lucy Tapper said Gray had ‘ruthlessly and callously’ exploited her client for his own purposes. The defendant had been ‘completely betrayed’ by the drug dealer, her barrister said.  

She picked holes in the prosecution’s case, noting that the only day the Crown could be absolutely sure of the presence of drugs in the flat was the day of the arrest.

The drugs were found at floor-level, where they might have been inadvertently discovered by the defendant’s young son and a mother would ‘naturally want them out of reach’ if she knew about them.

And why, Ms Tapper asked, would Plowman have asked her housing officer to increase ‘patrols’ in response to undesirable characters hanging around the flats if she was involved in a drugs conspiracy.


Plowman, formerly of Songthrush Road, Bodicote, will be sentenced in November.

Five co-conspirators have already been locked up for a total of 66 years. Richard Gray received 21 years.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward