A JUDGE has handed down jail terms totalling almost 90 years to 15 people who profited from a huge “county lines” drugs plot smashed by Cumbria Police.

Over 174 days last year, a five-strong gang of criminals from Liverpool built up a huge drug dealing operation in Carlisle and west Cumbria.

They took over the homes of addicts to prepare cocaine and heroin for sale on the streets and sent out thousands of “text bomb” adverts to potential customers.

Eleven Cumbrians joined the conspiracy, their efforts usually rewarded with a “daily fix” of heroin and cocaine, Carlisle Crown Court heard. The conspiracy was the biggest of its kind ever seen in Cumbria.

At the head of it was 35-year Liverpudlian Roy Hickman.

A convicted robber, with 88 previous offences on his record, he was given the longest sentence - 14 years and four months. All four of his Liverpool accomplices were given lengthy jail terms.

The court heard how detectives exposed the plot after identifying how more than 100 local drug users were repeatedly being targeted in a bizarre mass-marketing campaign, with dealers sending out thousands of “text bomb” phone messages to advertise their drugs.

Almost 10,000 such messages were sent during the five months conspiracy.

Prosecutor Tim Evans outlined how Hickman organised the operation to reduce the risk to himself, getting fellow gang members to scour Carlisle for drug addicts desperate enough to get involved in exchange for free drugs.

Time and time again, addicts were persuaded to hand over their homes to the gang.

Outlining the case, Judge Peter Davies said the gang initially recruited 51-year-old addict Michael Mandale as they sought to break into the Carlisle drugs market.

“He was persuaded to provide a list of local drug users and their telephone numbers to dealers in Liverpool,” said the judge.

Using that initial list of 16 numbers for addicts, the gang were able to rapidly expand their business.

“As customer numbers increased, business flourished,” said the judge. When police raided local homes that the gang were using, officers found evidence of how drugs were being locally processed.

The conspirators would boost the value of the heroin and cocaine by mixing it with “adulterants”, including caffeine, paracetamol, and a substance called phanacetin, which can cause bladder cancer.

Among the Carlisle addicts who handed over their home to the gang was Connor White, 23, who allowed Liverpool gang members to prepare deals at his Ellesmere Way home in Morton. When police raided his home on September 13 last year, the gang moved on to another drug user’s home.

Judge Davies said: “It was a repeated pattern in this conspiracy that when one premises was no longer of use another property had to be identified.

“Evidently, the risk of further discovery was more than counterbalanced by the promise of further and increasing profit.

“Thus, on the following day, Leon Kenyon was persuaded to help and his address was used for the cutting and adulterating of drugs... The profit for the Cumbrians was minimal: they saw no real improvement in their lifestyle, merely the continuing misery of permanent addiction to impure heroin and cocaine.”

Giving his overview of the conspiracy, Judge Davies said: “This is a conspiracy that organised constant and continuous drug dealing on the streets of Cumbria for a period in excess of five months.

“Homes and estates all over the city [of Carlisle] were used to adulterate, supply, and sell drugs; homes in which children live and where they must have been witnesses to these events...

“During investigation of this conspiracy, knives were recovered. Some people were intimidated and one defendant was assaulted with a sharp implement when he resisted attempts to resume drug dealing.

“It is evident that there has been a significant feeding of drug addiction in the city with the consequent overstretching of local authority, police and mental health agency resources.”

The plot amounted to “community exploitation”, said Judge Davies.

He continued: “All the Cumbrian defendants are in a completely different position since they did not occupy any management positions.

“They were, to a greater or lesser extent, exploited persons addicted to drugs and acting because of their desperation for addictive substances...”

Of the Cumbrians, the longest sentence went to Chris Cook, 39, known also as “Cookie”. He used “textbomb” to advertise that he was selling drugs.

He was jailed for five years eight months, and Mandale for three years nine months.

Judge Davies heaped praise on the police investigation. “Despite the fact that the conspiracy only finished on November 18, the police investigation was thorough, it was wide-ranging; and the phone evidence in particular was collated and managed superbly,” he said.

“As a result, it meant a significant drugs conspiracy was foiled. Many of those involved in the drugs conspiracy were arrested and charged; and unlike many similar conspiracies the major figures were apprehended from Merseyside.”

The judge said he will formally commend the police officers involved.

The senior officer whose role includes overseeing the Cumbrian force’s North Area Drugs Squad, Detective Inspector David Cooper, welcomed the tough sentences.

He said: “County lines drug supply is a somewhat insipid term for activity which is absolutely despicable and very very harmful within our communities.

“It’s exploitative drug supply, forced on communities by outside crime groups and the harm goes way beyond those immediately involved in the drugs.

“This case also shows that north Cumbria is not a soft touch for Liverpool drug dealers, or drug dealers from anywhere else, who want to come into this area and export their criminal activity on to the streets of Cumbria.”

Keeping Cumbria safe remains a Cumbria Police priority, he added.


OPERATION Nile was the codename for the successful Cumbria Police investigation which yielded prison terms with a combined total of more than 86 years.
It is being hailed as the biggest county lines drugs operation  ever to be smashed by the force.
Dealt with yesterday by Judge Peter Davies were:
Roy Hickman, 35, of Churchdown Road, Liverpool.
Role: He led the conspiracy, controlling the money and directing operations. Sentence: 14 years and four months.
Thomas Wright, 25, of Harefield Road, Liverpool.
Role: Hickman’s second in command, managing operations in Cumbria. Sentence: 10 years and six months.
Christopher Westwell, 25, of Roundhey, Liverpool.
Role: a leading manager of dealing in Cumbria. Sentence: nine years and nine months.
Dylan Yates, 25, of Boodecroft, Liverpool.
Role: A leading manager of dealing in Cumbria, who has previous convictions for trafficking heroin and cannabis.
Sentence: 12 years and six months.
James Bailey, 20, of Skelmersdale, Lancashire.
Role: Described as Dylan Yates’s apprentice. Sentence: Nine years.
Michael Mandale, 51, of Greystoke, near Penrith. 
Role: Supplied the Liverpool gang with 16 drug addict contacts. Sentence: Three years nine months.
Chris Cooke, 39, of Stanhope Road, Carlisle.
Role: A dealer in Carlisle for the gang, with previous drugs convictions. Sentence: Five years and 219 days 
Daniel Brennan, 32, of Woodside North, Carlisle.
Role: Allowed his phone to be used for “text bombing” drug customers.  Sentence: Four years and six months.
Connor White, 23,  of Eldon Drive, Harraby, Carlisle.
Role: Allowed his house to be a dealing base and was trusted to collect debts. Sentence: Three years.
Joseph Graham, 40, of Borrowdale Gardens, Carlisle.
Role: Sent out drugs text bombs to possible customers and topped up dealer phones. Sentence: Three years.
Peter Bryson, 31, of Castlerigg Drive, Morton.
Role: Helped White sell drugs and find a new drugs base. Sentence: Three years.
Heather Wills, 37, also of Castlerigg Drive.
Role: A mum of two, she too helped White sell drugs. Sentence: 28 months.
Storme Abrahams, 32, of Mill Street, Longtown. 
Role: Allowed her home to be used to store a drug making kit and adulterants. Also allowed three conspirators to stay there, including Dylan Yates and James Bailey. Sentence: Two years.
Bradley Hickman, 35, of Ellesmere Way, Morton, Carlisle.
Role: Allowed his home to be used by the dealers. Sentence: Two years.
Leon Kenyon, 48, of Osborne Avenue.
Role: Allowed his home to be used by the gang for two days. Sentence:  20 months.
Sharnee Dawkins, 29, formerly of Crummock Street, Carlisle, will be sentenced at a later date. She was excused yesterday’s Carlisle Crown Court hearing because she is due to give birth.