A COUPLE'S heart-breaking discovery of their son’s body in his bedroom graphically illustrated the consequences of Cumbria's illicit drugs trade, a court heard.

As he sentenced nine people involved in a huge county lines drugs conspiracy, Carlisle Crown Court Judge Nicholas Barker referred to talented musician Richard Ellis, 48, whose parents found him dead in a bedroom at their Dale Avenue home in Kendal just two days before Christmas Day, 2021.

He died after taking “high purity” heroin, which police believe was supplied by one of the conspirators. All nine defendants before the court had admitted conspiring to supply heroin and crack cocaine.

They were collectively given jail terms totalling almost 37 years.

During an all-day hearing, prosecutor Tim Evans described how 27-year-old Ryan Norton, while an inmate at Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, used secret phones to mastermind the conspiracy.

It involved heroin and crack cocaine being trafficked to the Kendal area over several months. The drugs were advertised to local addicts through "multiple message" text bombs, explaining what was for sale and when.

Norton was born in Merseyside but at the time was a serving prison, said Mr Evans.

As the details of the case were outlined, defence barristers made reference to the threats that were repeatedly made to some of those involved, which Judge Barker accepted was always a feature of the dealing world.

Mr Evans said he agreed with this but he added: “If you swim with sharks, you can’t object to those occasions when you get bitten.”

Norton worked with “trusted lieutenants” or “middle managers”, including fellow Merseyside man Adam Taylor Morgan, 24, who controlled three of the “Scouse” dealer phone lines and transported drugs to south Cumbria.

He liaised directly with Norton about the day-to-day operations.

He was active in the conspiracy from August 2021 until his arrest in March 2022. Another middle manager was Taylor Green, 20, also from Merseyside.

He spent some time staying in Carlisle to ensure mistakes were not being made by people working for the conspiracy, said Mr Evans.

Kendal woman Carol McLean, 56, of Glebe Road,  is alleged to have stored “wholesale quantities” of drugs to restock street dealers, though the extent of her involvement is to be agreed at a future hearing.

Lisa O’Brien, 44, also from Kendal, was a regular street dealer and regularly asked for more supplies of drugs.

Judge Barker said she could be described as the conspiracy’s “principal dealer.”News and Star:

Other street dealers were 57-year-old Sharon Hayton, from Kendal, who was said to have sold the heroin that Mr Ellis fatally overdosed on December 23, 2021. Judge Barker described her as a “prolific dealer. “

Mr Evans also outlined the role of lower-level dealers, including Levi Dixon, 35, from Windermere, who worked as a drugs and cash courier in Cumbria.

Natalie Underhill, 34, Norton’s former partner, was involved in initially transporting the drugs to Cumbria which police say eventually were involved in the death of Mr Ellis.

She allowed a bank account to be used in transferring more than £3,000 of criminal cash generated by the dealing.

Ashley Cudlipp, 32, originally from Kendal, was a street dealer for two months while Flookburgh man Martin Hornby, 49, who delivered drugs to Windermere in exchange for the drugs to which he was addicted. He was also caught growing 21 cannabis plants, though he claimed they were for his own use.

Norton’s defence barrister said he accepted putting other people under pressure, but he too was pressurised by others in the drug dealing operation. “He’s still only 27-years of age,” said the barrister.

Adam Taylor Morgan, of Gillars Green Drive, St Helens, tried to better himself while in prison, taking one course exploring “the effects of crime” and another about how to resist drug abuse, said his barrister. The lawyer added: “He wants to make a fresh start and has learned his lesson from his offending.”

Taylor Green, of Haresfield Road, St Helens, could offer “very little mitigation,” said his barrister. Aged only 18 at the time he was involved, he was lightly convicted.

Kim Whittlestone, for Lisa O’Brien, of Vicar’s Field, Kendal, said some of the people involved in the conspiracy subjected the defendant to “sadistic threats”, targeting her children and her dog. She became a “front” for the drug dealing business. “Her home was also targeted by other drug dealers,” said the barrister.

Messages found on O’Brien’s phone reflected her chronic drug addiction. “She was really at rock bottom,” said Miss Whittlestone. “She wishes to be drug free and to distance herself from that life.”

Underhill, of Admiral Point, Blackpool, played a limited role, allowing £3,500 to be transferred to her account and one trip to supply drugs onwards to others. She was not a street dealer, said her barrister.

Jack Troupe, for Hayton, of Ashley Village, Chorley, said she had expressed “genuine remorse”. After suffering a serious injury in a car accident 15 years ago, she began using opioid medication. She became involved in the conspiracy to clear her drugs debt. She also took on her son’s drug debt to help him distance himself from that world.

Hornby, of Main Street, Flookburgh, became involved to feed his own drugs habit.

The barrister said the 21 cannabis plants found at the defendant’s home were for his own use. Cudlipp, of Manvers Street, Bath, was selling drugs for only nine and a half weeks while Dixon, of The Beeches, Levens, sold “small amounts” of drugs, the court heard.News and Star:

Addressing the defendants, Judge Barker told them: “On the afternoon of December 23, 2021, Richard Ellis’s parents entered into his bedroom and found their son dead in bed.

"The reason he had died was because he had taken high purity heroin and he had opioids in his system.

“As discovered at the post-mortem, it’s likely that those drugs, that heroin, was supplied to him by Sharon Hayton, no doubt supplied initially by Carol McLean, who had no doubt been supplied by Taylor Morgan at the direction of Ryan Norton.

"Such as the wheels within wheels of a drug dealing conspiracies.

“Here is a clear and sadly tragic example of why dealing in class A drugs is a pernicious and evil trade. That trade is performed to obtain financial benefit.”News and Star:

The judge said he was satisfied every defendant in the case was aware that they risked an immediate custodial sentence when they became involved in dealing crack cocaine and heroin.

Norton was given the longest sentence – eight years and eight months.

Taylor Morgan was jailed for five years and eight months, and O’Brien for five years. Green’s jail term was four years, while Hayton was given 44 months, Hornby 40 months, and Underhill 35 months.

Cudlipp was given 32 months and Dixon 28 months. McLean will be sentenced at a later date.

* Judge Barker pointed out that Hayton was not given a heavier sentence because of Mr Ellis's death given that it was "likely" the drugs she sent to him were the cause of the tragedy. 

Carol McClean's sentence is yet to be decided. Her image has been obscured in our main picture because she has not yet been sentenced.

Read more: Mastermind of Cumbrian drugs conspiracy was serving prisoner

Read more: Kendal man Richard Ellis's death was drug related, inquest hears