Five-man ‘county lines’ drugs gang jailed for 20 years

Five-man ‘county lines’ drugs gang who made £70,000 in four months by ferrying high-purity cocaine from London to sell in Cardiff are jailed for a total of almost 20 years

  • ‘County lines’ drugs gang who sold high purity cocaine are jailed for 20 years 
  • The five strong gang raked in £70,000 in four months from London to Cardiff 
  • Police watched as Aden Bashir carried out a number of drug deals in June 2017
  • They were able to trace the group back to London to include four other member
  • All five appeared at Newport Crown Court and were jailed for a total of 20 years

A drug dealing gang who brought high-purity cocaine from London to sell on the streets of Cardiff made an estimated £70,000 in profit in four months. 

The five men, part of a so-called County Lines operation, were based in two houses in the Welsh capital which they used to store and sell dozens of cocaine deals. 

Police observed Aden Bashir, based at Miller’s flat in Cardiff, carry out a number of drug deals over four months before raiding both addresses in June 2017.

A drug dealing gang who brought high-purity cocaine from London to sell on the streets of Cardiff made an estimated £70,000 in profit in four months. Abdi Rahman Hassan (left), of Barnet, was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison with two years and one month added for the London charge. Muktar Hassan was sentenced to four years eight months in jail

All five appeared for sentencing at Newport Crown Court on Monday, with Abdi Rahman Hassan appearing via video link from Wormwood Scrubs. 

Prosecutor Ieuan Bennett described how the operation worked and how the gang was caught. 

He said: ‘Bashir was brought to the police’s attention supplying cocaine in the Newport Road area of Cardiff on June 7. The police followed him and tracked him back to David Miller’s house nearby in Dylan Place. 

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‘Police observation revealed the house was being used as a base for Mr Bashir and he was repeatedly coming and going from that address at night and supplying people with wraps of cocaine on the streets of Cardiff for money. 

‘The other three defendants were at a second house a distance away from Miller’s home in the Heath in Threipland Drive. They kept in touch by telephone network.

That house would have been where the larger supply of cocaine was kept and drugs would have been wrapped and bagged there to be sold by Bashir. 

Aden Bashir (left), of Manchester, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. David Miller, of Roath, Cardiff, was sentenced to four years imprisonment.

‘There was a link between the two houses – a mobile telephone ending in 867. A phone using that number was brought into the Cardiff area and those who buy cocaine on a regular basis will discover the line is active and they will know the group of people are ready and willing to supply high-purity Class A drugs in the locality. 

‘They will call up that number and speak to someone in order to buy regular small amounts of cocaine. It’s therefore the location of that telephone number that is the central part of a conspiracy of this sort.’ 

It was claimed by Mr Bennett that Abdi Rahman Hassan played the leading role in the group with Muktar Hassan also playing a central part by having possession of the 867 number. 

They were receiving support and funding from people ‘higher up the chain’ who have not been detected by police. 

Mahmud Mahmud , of Hendon, London, was sentenced to two years and eight months

Bashir was seen as being at the bottom of the chain and would carry out the drug deals at night, being the most exposed to police observation. 

Mahmud Mahmud acted as a driver for the group, making three trips to London to pick up cocaine in a hired silver Volkswagen Golf, while Miller allowed his house to be used for the street dealing part of the operation and also acted as a driver, carrying out four trips to London to bring cocaine back to Cardiff in his black Ford Focus. 

Sentencing in brief 

  • Abdi Rahman Hassan, of Barnet, London, was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison with two years and one month added for the London charge. 
  • Muktar Hassan, of Cricklewood, London, was sentenced to four years and eight months in jail.
  • David Miller, of Roath, Cardiff, was sentenced to four years imprisonment.
  • Mahmud Mahmud, of Hendon, London, was sentenced to two years and eight months. 
  • Aden Bashir, of Manchester, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

When Bashir was observed by police on June 7 he was seen approaching a man on a push bike and there was an exchange between the two men. 

Shortly later a woman appeared and Bashir came out of Miller’s flat and spoke to the woman.

Mr Bennett said: ‘She was later found with two small cling film wraps of cocaine, 0.286grams of crack cocaine, worth a total of £30. That was tested at 93% purity. 

‘The mobile phone used by the female cocaine buyer was seized and the police tracked the number to the address of Dylan Place and back to the Threipland Drive address in Heath.’ 

On June 8 police executed an arrest warrant at Dylan Place and recovered a white iPhone and £165.47 from Bashir and they also recovered pieces of cling film, cling film boxes, a mobile linked to David Miller, and the black Ford Focus he had been using. 

On the same day police went to Threipland Drive to execute a warrant and when they entered they noticed drug paraphernalia throughout the house including pieces of cling film on the coffee table, a bag of white powder hidden down the side of the sofa, and digital weighing scales. 

County lines and cuckooing 

Organised criminal drugs gangs from big cities are increasingly turning

their attention to smaller towns and cities around the country – including Cardiff and Swansea.

Typically the gang will exploit vulnerable, often addicted, people in their target town, then take over their houses or flats – often through

intimidation – and install trusted operatives who then use the properties as bases for their dealing. This is known as ‘cuckooing’.

Sometimes people will be trafficked into the target town to act as house-sitters – as happened to the teenage girl from London who was rescued from a heroin and crack house in Penlan by police.

The gangs typically operate through a single pay-as-you-go mobile phone which can be used to let addicts know when new supplies are ready, as wellas to take orders from users.

The orders themselves are then arranged and delivered by people working from the cuckooed properties and through a network of low-level street dealers and users – keeping the gang leaders at arms-length from the operation.

Gangs have been estimated to be making thousands of pounds of day from the trade in Swansea.  

The powder was 27.2g of 79% purity cocaine which had just been brought back from London for onward sale. 

Mr Bennett said using the amount bought by the female drug buyer and the amount of cocaine found at Threipland Drive as an example, and the 867 phone records which recorded 79 drug deals, police were able to estimate that the group’s profit would have been in the region of £70,000. 

All five defendants eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply a Class A drug. 

Abdi Rahman Hassan was also due to be sentenced for the same charge in relation to another matter in London. 

Defending Miller, Andrew Kendall said his client had been under pressure to become involved in the operation after receiving threats after racking up a cannabis debt. 

Derrick Gooden, defending Bashir, said his client performed a limited function in the operation and there was an element of exploitation and naivete in his involvement. 

Bridget Irving, defending Abdi Rahman Hassan, accepted her client was closely involved in the operation but described him as a trusted member of the group and no more than that. 

She said he also had a cannabis debt to pay off. Defending Mahmud, Matthew Buckland said his client was only involved in the conspiracy for a short time and had been naive but added that Mahmud’s role was small. 

And Abigail Bright, defending Muktar Hassan, said her client had shown ‘real insight and remorse’ in this case and at the time of his offending he was a cannabis user which distorted his judgement. 

Sentencing, Judge Richard Williams said: ‘This was an operation which betrayed large links to an organised crime group. Each of you played a part to develop and manage the supply and distribution of cocaine at street level in Cardiff and ferrying the result of that criminal enterprise back to London. 

‘I am satisfied that Abdi Rahman Hassan is regarded as playing the leading role in this conspiracy but other defendants have played a role affecting the conspiracy at different degrees.’ 

  • Abdi Rahman Hassan, of Barnet, London, was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison with two years and one month added for the London charge. 
  • Muktar Hassan, of Cricklewood, London, was sentenced to four years and eight months in jail.
  • David Miller, of Roath, Cardiff, was sentenced to four years imprisonment.
  • Mahmud, of Hendon, London, was sentenced to two years and eight months. 
  • Aden Bashir, of Manchester, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: The gruesome reality of life as a country lines mule 

By Andrew Levy, Rebecca Camber and Neil Tweedie

During early March this year, the wave of cold air from the Continent dubbed the Beast from the East was at its most punishing. The streets of Norwich were all but deserted, residents seeking refuge indoors. But one local teenager was hard at work, braving the blizzard battering the cathedral city.

Failure to complete his mission could result in more than a frozen face and hands. ‘I’ve seen young kids stabbed with knives,’ he says. ‘I’ve seen people have blades shoved through their body. I’ve seen people put into a coma for the smallest mistake.’

The 16-year-old – let’s call him Michael – was selling heroin to addicts equally desperate to engage in a street trade despite the appalling weather.

That night, however, one of his ‘customers’ was an undercover policeman, part of a crackdown on drug dealing in Norfolk.

When Michael was searched, 45 wraps of heroin were found, 15 of them hidden inside a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg.

Class A drugs wrapped and ready for sale at a dealer’s den in Newquay along with £2,000 in cash 

Michael was at the sharp end of the ‘county lines’ criminal networks – exposed in recent weeks by the Mail – which reach out from London, Liverpool and other big cities to shift class A drugs into provincial Britain; market towns and coastal resorts, places once unfamiliar with organised crime.

The name comes from the dedicated mobile phone lines used to order and ship drugs. And the conduits for this expanding trade? Children – predominantly boys, predominantly from troubled backgrounds, enticed into a life of crime with promises of money, kudos and a sense of belonging often lacking in their home lives.

‘It just takes one person to come up to you and promise you money, nice clothes and a better lifestyle,’ says Michael. ‘They can persuade you so easily.’

This minor cog in Britain’s darkest growth industry, whose real identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons, grew up in the Norfolk fishing port of Great Yarmouth and was first exposed to drugs aged seven.

He became a dealer at 15 while living with foster parents in Norwich and admits it was he who initiated contact with a gang after hearing there was good money to be made.

‘The dealers will target someone young and vulnerable, wave around a little bit of money and they are caught in it,’ he explains. ‘They will find you wherever you are – at your school, in the streets or even outside your front door. I would go up to people who I knew would provide me with the goods to sell. What amazed me was how quick and easy it was to get involved.’

In a normal week he made £500. A good one and he could pull in £2,000. But there was another incentive to keep on dealing – the threat of extreme violence.

Michael says: ‘When you do good you have the money and you are looked after and cared for and you are a ‘top boy’.

‘But when you do bad, that’s when the trouble starts. I saw some terrible things, and at many points there were situations that could have turned bad for me.

‘I’ve seen people who have been locked in a room for giving away secret information, then beaten up by four or five guys.’

And he says no matter how many arrests police made, young people were lining up to replace those taken off the streets.

The county lines gangs are certainly adept at choosing their prey, targeting children from broken homes, some living with foster parents or in care.

Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), which deal with disruptive children excluded from mainstream education are, according to a new report for the Home Office, a particularly fertile recruiting ground.

Gang members have been known to watch at the units’ gates, preying on children who appear vulnerable – such as those whose parents work long hours and are not around to pick them up. These units, to which some 16,000 children have been referred, are being used by some schools to offload pupils who cause chaos in classrooms and lower exam results.

‘Exclusion from school does appear to be a highly significant trigger point for the escalation of county lines involvement for children who might be on the fringes of such activity,’ says the Home Office report.

Researchers quote a social worker describing a ‘twilight timetable’ in PRUs under which pupils attend school for just one hour starting at 4pm – ‘so, of course, they can get up to all sorts of stuff all day and no one would know’.

The consequences can be tragic for some youngsters. This month, a drug dealer who used three children from Birmingham to sell crack cocaine and heroin to addicts in Lincoln was jailed for 14 years after admitting charges of modern slavery.

In a landmark case, Zakaria Mohammed admitted using two boys aged 15 and a 14-year-old girl to deal on his behalf from a flat in Lincoln that was also occupied by two heroin users.

Mohammed, 21, transported the children, drugs and proceeds between Birmingham and the city, operating remotely; taking calls from customers and directing the teenagers to them.

Police said while Mohammed netted £500 per day his young dealers benefited little, enduring life in a filthy, freezing flat surrounded by used syringes.

Michael explains: ‘Dealers will look for someone vulnerable, wave around a little bit of money and they are caught.’

Cash, a new pair of trainers, even fizzy drinks – children often used to little in the way of treats are groomed for their future role by such gifts. But youngsters from more fortunate backgrounds have fallen into the trap too, he says. One of the gangs’ most powerful tools is cannabis. The Children’s Society believes eight out of ten young runners involved in county lines are hooked on the drug.

The charity’s Rhiannon Sawyer said: ‘Cannabis being used to groom children is common. I’d say about 80 per cent of young people will be smoking weed. Maybe not all of them daily, but they will have been given weed from a very young age like 12 or 13.

‘It might be, ‘Do you want to come and chill with me and my mate? We are just going to have a few drinks, a few spliffs, come and chill with us’.

‘Then the target child is given weed for free and eventually told, ‘I have given you all this for free, now you owe us. Do you mind taking this to that person for me?’ That’s how it starts.’

In a recent case, a boy in Kent, who had no history of being in trouble with the police, went missing for several weeks to carry out drugs runs after being ensnared by a gang over a £5 cannabis debt.

Detective Inspector Neil Watford, of Kent Police, describes how the child was quickly sucked in: ‘He was subjected to violence, threats and intimidation and eventually we located him sitting on 150 wraps of class A drugs.’

Many gangs pay children with cannabis instead of cash, and an addicted runner is, for a time, a more dependable runner. In addition, the drug helps dull the pain of a 24-hour existence overshadowed by the threat of violence – be it from gang masters, rival gangs or customers.

Retribution can be swift if a young runner has his or her consignment confiscated by the police, is suspected of working for the police, or a rival gang, or known to be trying to quit the drugs trade.

Miss Sawyer, London area manager for the Children’s Society, says: ‘Children have told us how they have witnessed adults having sex in front of them, and how adults try to have sex with them when they are in the trap house.

‘There have been instances of an adult suffering a psychotic episode and stabbing the child.

‘There are lots of instances of children from London being stabbed outside London. Sometimes they will be wounded in a superficial way to scare them, sometimes in a very damaging way, in the groin or face.’

Child drugs mules have been raped, burned and had their fingernails pulled out. The charity has helped girls as young as 12 who have been forced to carry up to 30 drug wraps in their body.

‘If you think what they are doing out there – continuous drug drops for up to 24 hours day often out in the cold in disgusting places – getting stoned on weed is a way to make it less bleak,’ says Miss Sawyer.

A decade ago, a drug user might call a dealer and wait on a street corner until the dealer was ready to deliver. Today, a drug user’s number might be known by a dozen competing gangs. Young drugs runners are given sales targets, and woe betide the one who fails to achieve his or her quota.

‘If they have an amount of heroin or crack cocaine, they will be told ‘shift this all tomorrow’,’ explains Miss Sawyer. ‘It might be one importer supplying ten to 20 organised groups, each of them sending out ten to 20 children.

‘There could be up to 40 children in a county line but each of them will be made to believe there might be only one or two and that they are special, whereas actually they are just disposable.’

An upsurge in knife violence, particularly in the capital, can be attributed in part to turf wars between drugs gangs and their young foot soldiers, some of whom have resorted to wearing stab-proof vests. There has also been a substantial rise in convictions of teenagers for drugs offences.

A study for the Home Office carried out by the St Giles Trust charity which consulted victims, parents, social workers and police, found that 90 per cent of exploited youngsters were male, two-thirds were white, and half aged 13 to 15.

All were drug users, mostly cannabis but also ecstasy and cocaine, while 60 per cent had issues with alcohol. All were absent from mainstream education, all had at some time disappeared from home and all had been subject to violence. The mother of a 14-year-old boy arrested 200 miles from home explained: ‘He went missing for five days. When he came back, there was nothing in his eyes. We found out he’d made friends with boys from another school.

‘They made it look very glamorous and they knew he wasn’t doing well at school. They groomed him and made him believe that his family couldn’t afford anything, so it was all about the money.’

Another 14-year-old explained: ‘I ran away from home. I was angry with everybody. I used to sleep on kitchen floors and older boys would come in and kick me in the head to wake me up.

‘By the age of 13, I started a gang. I’m nearly 15 now, I hardly ever go to school and my mum always shouts at me so it’s best to stay out.

‘She used to search through my room and find knives, weed, cocaine, condoms and she once found a gun. Obviously, she was mad.’

But not all recruits come from disadvantaged families. County lines gangs have become adept at matching runners with the ethnic and social character of their destinations, so that they blend in and remain under the radar.

One police officer in the East of England told the researchers: ‘We used to have black lads coming over from London, but they recruit more locals now because they’re not so noticeable.’

While statistics on those involved in county lines are hard to come by, case loads suggest children involved in London gangs are predominantly from the ethnic minorities, while those based in the provinces are mostly white.

Michael describes his life on the street as like a ‘ticking timebomb’ – a matter of day-to-day survival. His career ended on that freezing day in March this year when he became one of 126 children held on suspicion of dealing drugs in the Norwich area. His remorse earned him a lenient two-year youth rehabilitation order.

‘I was one of the luckier ones because I got caught and arrested in the earlier stages,’ he says. ‘If I was still there now I don’t know where I would be. I could be dead.’ Now 17, he is living in a different part of Norfolk, which has helped him distance himself from his old life – though he still receives invitations to re-join the drug-trafficking business.

He has some advice for youngsters tempted by offers of cash, trainers and bogus friendship: ‘Don’t do it. Keep at school, live your life and go to college or university. It may seem like a long and difficult way to get money, but at least your life is in your hands.’

He warns that operations like those taking place across the country may be only a minor setback for county lines in the long run – the army of child dealers on Britain’s streets is being constantly replenished.

‘The more people try to stop it, the more it is going to grow,’ he warns. ‘The more police investigate and arrest people higher up, the more positions open up lower down. And who is going to fill those? The young people, the children.

‘Dealing drugs is just like gambling: you win £5, then £50 and then £100, and you just can’t stop. You bet £100 and you bet more and more. But eventually you lose.’

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