Miss­ing teen used by gang to sell drugs

Llanelli Star - - NEWS - Ja­son Evans @Evan­sTheCrime ja­[email protected]­line.co.uk 01792 545549

A MISS­ING boy was picked up by crim­i­nals and traf­ficked to West Wales to sell drugs for a Birm­ing­ham gang, a court has heard.

The 14-year-old had left home af­ter a row with his par­ents – but within hours was in the clutches of an or­gan­ised crim­i­nal gang.

He was then driven to Llanelli where he was set to work deal­ing heroin and co­caine.

The boy was traf­ficked to Wales by an­other teenager, 18-year-old Har­ri­son James Coe, who the court heard came from a “de­cent, law-abid­ing fam­ily”. The case is the lat­est ex­am­ple of what is known as a County Lines op­er­a­tion, where or­gan­ised crim­i­nal gangs in large English cities ex­tend their drug deal­ing busi­nesses into small cities and towns in Wales. It is the first hu­man traf­fick­ing – some­times called mod­ern slav­ery – County Lines con­vic­tion in the Dyfed-Powys Po­lice area, and the vic­tim is be­lieved to be the youngest yet found and res­cued in Wales.

Swansea Crown Court heard Coe was ar­rested in the Dafen area of Llanelli on the evening of March 12 af­ter po­lice stopped a car which in­tel­li­gence had linked to gang ac­tiv­ity.

Cather­ine Richards, pros­e­cut­ing, said of­fi­cers re­cov­ered a mo­bile phone and a quan­tity of cannabis, but be­lieved the teenager had fur­ther drugs hid­den in­ter­nally.

He was taken to hospi­tal where he re­fused to be ex­am­ined – how­ever, af­ter 50 hours un­der ob­ser­va­tion, he passed a pack­age which con­tained 47 wraps of heroin with a street value of al­most £1,200.

An anal­y­sis of Coe’s phone re­vealed he had been in reg­u­lar con­tact with a gang in the English West Mid­lands known by po­lice as “Marco”.

Cell anal­y­sis also showed the phone had made jour­neys be­tween Birm­ing­ham and Llanelli.

Miss Richards said po­lice in­tel­li­gence linked the Marco gang and Coe to a miss­ing school­boy from the West Mid­lands, and their in­ves­ti­ga­tion led them to raid a prop­erty in Rope­walk Road in Morfa, Llanelli. In the house, which be­longed to a drug ad­dict, was the miss­ing 14-year-old school­boy, who can­not be named for le­gal rea­sons.

The court heard the boy sub­se­quently told po­lice he was from the West Mid­lands, and had ar­gued with his par­ents on March 9. He said he walked out of the fam­ily home, and within hours he re­ceived a mes­sage via the Snapchat app ask­ing if any­one wanted to sell drugs.

The boy told po­lice that with­out money or any­where to go, he said yes to the mes­sage. The gang then con­tacted him, and the fol­low­ing day he was picked up by Coe and driven to Llanelli.

The court heard the 14-year-old was given 15 wraps of heroin and 15 wraps of co­caine, was told to give some of the drugs to the house­holder for the use of her house, and then to sell the rest.

Miss Richards said the boy was also given a quan­tity of cannabis by Coe.

Over the fol­low­ing days the boy re­ceived phone calls giv­ing him in­struc­tions on what to do, with so-called “run­ners” com­ing to the house to col­lect wraps of drugs for cus­tomers and then bring­ing back the cash pay­ments.

The court heard the school­boy was moved be­tween three ad­dresses in the lo­cal area by the gang, and on one oc­ca­sion was driven to what is be­lieved to have been Cardiff to hand over the money he had col­lected – the driver who took him was paid with a cou­ple of wraps of drugs.

Miss Richards said the boy told po­lice he had not been threat­ened by the gang but felt he could not say no be­cause they had helped him when he was des­per­ate.

He told them the gang had ini­tially made con­tact with him some six months ear­lier and asked if he wanted to sell drugs, but on that oc­ca­sion he had re­fused.

The pros­e­cu­tor said the boy’s fam­ily were greatly con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of ret­ri­bu­tion from the drugs gang, and there­fore did not want him mak­ing any fur­ther state­ments to po­lice or help­ing with their in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

She said the fam­ily were so wor­ried about what the gang may do, the boy had been staying out­side the UK in an at­tempt to keep him safe.

Coe, of Wrekin Road, Sut­ton Cold­field, Birm­ing­ham, had pre­vi­ously pleaded guilty to ar­rang­ing the travel of an­other per­son with a view to ex­ploita­tion, sup­ply­ing co­caine, sup­ply­ing heroin, sup­ply­ing cannabis, pos­ses­sion of heroin with in­tent to sup­ply, and the sim­ple pos­ses­sion of cannabis when he ap­peared in the dock for sen­tenc­ing.

He has no pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions.

John Hip­kin, for Coe, said the de­fen­dant – who turns 19 this week – comes from a “per­fectly de­cent, law-abid­ing fam­ily”, and his in­volve­ment in drug deal­ing had come as a great shock to them.

Judge Keith Thomas said Coe had made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the crim­i­nal gang’s op­er­a­tion by traf­fick­ing “vul­ner­a­ble work­ers” to South Wales, and sup­ply­ing them with drugs for sale.

The judge said the ap­pro­pri­ate sen­tence af­ter trial would have been one of six years de­ten­tion, giv­ing him credit for his guilty pleas that was re­duced to four-and-a-half years. Coe will serve half that pe­riod in cus­tody be­fore be­ing re­leased on li­cence to serve the re­main­der in the com­mu­nity. Coe was also made the sub­ject of a re­strain­ing or­der pro­hibit­ing him from con­tact­ing his vic­tim.

Af­ter the sen­tenc­ing Dyfed-Powys Po­lice chief in­spec­tor Richard Hop­kin praised the ef­forts of the of­fi­cers which had led to the swift con­vic­tion.

He said: “Har­ri­son Coe is one of a num­ber of peo­ple linked to the County Lines drugs sup­ply net­work who have been pros­e­cuted in Car­marthen­shire over the past few months.

Coe had only been in Llanelli a mat­ter of days when of­fi­cers, act­ing swiftly on in­for­ma­tion, ar­rested him. Their dili­gent and ex­pe­di­tious in­quires led to him plead­ing guilty at court, due to the strength of ev­i­dence un­cov­ered by the in­ves­ti­ga­tion team.

“I want to re­as­sure the pub­lic across Car­marthen­shire that we are work­ing closely with part­ners to re­duce drug mis­use within our com­mu­ni­ties, to make it a less lu­cra­tive mar­ket for drug sup­pli­ers to oper­ate in, and in do­ing so, make Car­marthen­shire a safer place to live.”

Har­ri­son James Coe was sen­tenced to four-and-a-half years’ de­ten­tion for traf­fick­ing a 14-year-old boy to Llanelli as part of a drug-deal­ing gang.

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