Twisted county line gang preyed on missing children to supply drugs
A gang that preyed on children to supply drugs across county lines has been found guilty in a huge success for British policing. County line criminals from Birmingham and London had been exploiting two missing children from London, using them to run drugs from their cities to Bournemouth. The conviction of five of the smugglers came yesterday after a seven-week trial and investigation that started in July last year. A sixth smuggler was already convicted in February.
The hunt for the gang first started on 3 July 2022 after a 16-year-old from Farnborough, in Hampshire, was arrested in Bournemouth for holding a large amount of crack cocaine and heroin.
The Bournemouth cops seized his phone and put measures in place to safeguard the teenager, who they were concerned was being used by a County Lines gang to supply drugs. The case was then referred to the Met Police’s Operation Orochi team, which focuses on these kinds of criminal enterprises.
Detectives trawled through communication data, including social media conversations between the suspects. They also looked through hours of CCTV, including at a Bournemouth hotel.
Four offenders, Adam Sheikh, 24 and Sharia Duggal, 28, both of no fixed address and Saad Nur, 25, from Birmingham, Hafsa Khan, 23, from West Drayton, were identified as controlling the “Hustle” county drug line which had operated within Bournemouth. The 16-year-old child had been working for them.
In September last year, officers from Operation Orochi deployed to the Bournemouth area to target this activity.
Whilst in Bournemouth, officers arrested Lee Kitchener, 20, from Penge in South East London, and Feliciano Mendes, 19, of Redriffe Road, Stratford, East London. A large quantity of crack cocaine and heroin was recovered. Additionally, another 16-year-old missing boy from Warwickshire was located in a flat in the Boscombe area of Bournemouth.
The next day, a warrant was given for the arrest of the County Line holders in Birmingham.
Yesterday, Nur and Khan were found guilty of conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin. Sheikh and Duggal were found guilty of facilitating the travel of another with a view to exploitation and conspiracy to supply Class A drugs – crack cocaine and heroin.
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Additionally, Lee Kitchener, 20, from Penge, SE20 pleaded guilty on Wednesday, 1 February to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine/heroin and possession with intent to supply.
Meanwhile, Mendes was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs – crack cocaine and heroin.
Additionally, Kitchener pleaded guilty on Wednesday, 1 February to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine/heroin and possession with intent to supply.
Detective Chief Inspector Dan Mitchell, from Op Orochi, said: “Since Orochi was incepted in November 2019, we have worked in partnership with 26 county forces to target and close county lines, bringing offenders to justice.
“This criminal gang were exploiting two children, both missing from London, to run their County Line from London to Bournemouth and in doing so, placed them at the forefront of the supply chain, exposed to the most risk, whilst they harnessed the profits.
“By bringing charges of modern slavery and drug supply, irrespective of the victim’s engagement, we are able to prosecute the full extent of this criminality and send a strong message to dissuade criminal gangs from using children to sell their drugs.
“The teenagers were not prosecuted and were safeguarded and instead, referred to Children’s Services from respective local authorities and the Single Competent Authority/National Referral Mechanism.
“Since 1 April 2022 Orochi, working closely with Rescue and Response, have conducted 20 operations, rescuing 30 children from County Lines and charged 24 individuals with modern slavery offences.”
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