‘My daughter has lost her dad’

AGONY: Leanne Fitzgerald and daughter Paige
AGONY: Leanne Fitzgerald and daughter Paige

These were the words of a Chorley woman whose partner was convicted of helping organise a £600,000 international drugs plot.

Last month the Guardian revealed how dad-of-three Phillip Jennings, 24, of Gillibrand Walks, was jailed for eight years and his accomplice, Martin Kiley, 30, of Wordsworth Terrace, for 12, for arranging for two mules to smuggle 1.4kg of cocaine.

One of the mules was Jennings’ girlfriend at the time, Louise Marsden, who spent nearly a year locked up in a US detention centre.

Now his current girlfriend, Leanne Fitzgerald, 20, has spoken exclusively to the Guardian for the first time.

The couple’s daughter Paige celebrated her first birthday last week – but her dad missed the party because he was behind bars.

Leanne said: “He is gutted. He isn’t the one who is suffering. It is everyone else out here.

“When he got that sentence everyone was so shocked. They all said the judge was trying to make an example of him.

“He is not a bad lad. He is a family man. He just stays at home with me and his kids. He doesn’t go out causing trouble.

“Phil was told he would get about four to six years.

“It is stupid what he got. Murderers don’t even get that long. He says he hates it in prison. He is locked up permanently and he was been separated from Shady (Martin Kiley). He can do nothing but think of us lot.

“He has not even had a proper conviction before. He has never been to jail. This is affecting his children more than it has affected him, and that makes him gutted.

“The case was adjourned four times before he finally got sentenced so he had to say goodbye to his children four times.”

A court heard Jennings was dating Louise Marsden in 2008 when he and Kiley helped orchestrate a plot to smuggle 1.4kg of cocaine from Trinidad.

Marsden and a man called Daniel Lee were recruited to act as mules.

The pair were caught at JFK airport in New York, and both went on to serve custodial sentences in America.

Jennings and Kiley were caught after an investigation by Chorley Police’s Targeted Crime Unit and the Department for Homeland Security in America uncovered text messages on Louise Marsden’s phone in April last year, showing they were part of the plot.

It was originally planned that Jennings would act as a mule but, when his passport failed to arrive in time, Louise was recruited.

Jennings and Kiley pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply cocaine and money laundering and were sentenced at Preston Crown Court on August 22.

Leanne says she faces having to move out of the three-bedroom house which she shared with her partner and their daughter.

She said: “Phil called Paige on her birthday but he could only speak to her for about five seconds before he was cut off.

“She is a real daddy’s girl. All of his children are. She is going to be in school before he gets out,and that is really hard.

“I’m a single mum now, and I am only 20. I am still going to stay with him through all of this. I miss him.

“People were saying to me he wouldn’t get sent down. No one expected it.

“He is not a troublemaker. He is going to do all of the courses he can in there and just keep his head down until he is let out.

“He just gets on with everyone. Everyone feels so sorry for him. It is not right.”