Missing teen used by gang to sell drugs
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.