FIFTEEN criminals jailed for “county lines” drug dealing have been hit with powerful new court orders as part of an unprecedented bid to suffocate their evil trade.

For the first time ever, senior detectives and crown prosecutors have obtained a “wholesale” batch of court orders that cripple the gang’s future ability to operate in Cumbria - by stripping them of the freedoms which made their crimes possible.

Ruthless dealers commandeered the homes of addicts in Carlisle and Longtown - a technique called cuckooing.

They then grew their market for heroin and crack cocaine through mass marketing, simultaneously sending hundreds of “text-bomb” adverts to addicts.

Cumbrian detectives smashed the plot in an investigation codenamed Operation Nile. They believe the gang’s turnover ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In an exclusive interview with The Cumberland News, Detective Chief Inspector David Cooper revealed how five senior gang members - all from Liverpool - will face comprehensive restrictions for five years after their release from jail.

The group will be banned from even returning to Cumbria - unless they have the express permission from Cumbria Police. They also be prevented from:

n Owning more than one mobile phone (unless it is for work);

n Owning more than one phone SIM card;

n Carrying more than £500 in cash (unless a written explanation is given to the police);

n Contacting any co-conspirator;

n and changing address or name without telling police.

Any breach of the Serious Crime Prevention Order can be punished by up to five years in jail. The 10 Cumbrian conspirators - most from Carlisle - are also banned from contacting any former gang members.

Nor are they allowed to own more than one mobile phone or SIM card, unless for legitimate employment. “These orders can be granted at any point where there is a necessity to protect the public,” said Det Ch Insp Cooper.

“It’s the first time we have gone wholesale to the court for orders like this.

“They are powerful tools: mobile phones are at the centre of county lines drugs conspiracies; they need them to conduct this kind of criminality.

“In Cumbria Police, we’re looking to expand this [legal approach] much more. It’s great having big operations but prevention is more effective.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to disrupt the whole enterprise.

“It’s a massive issue nationally, and for us in Cumbria. The judge called exploitative drug supply ‘community exploitation’.

“I’ve been involved in many drugs investigations; and had to go to many drug related deaths. None are dignified; and none are pleasant.”

Police warning: Page 7