DETECTIVES have spoken for the first time in public about an investigation that led to the jailing of nine people involved in a major drugs conspiracy.

Operation Forfeit exposed how county lines drugs criminals were bringing crack cocaine and heroin into south Cumbria - and how the man behind the offending was controlling fellow criminals from his prison cell.

Ryan Norton, 27, is a serving prisoner at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow.

That did not prevent him from controlling a sophisticated and lucrative operation that saw large  quantities of class A drugs moved from Merseyside to South Cumbria, with one batch of heroin being implicated in the tragic death of a Kendal man.

Using secret phones which had been smuggled into his prison, he issued instructions to "trusted" co-conspirators, who in turn recruited drug users to do their bidding, including the selling of heroin and crack cocaine on the streets.

The nine offenders involved, including Norton, were all yesterday given lengthy jail terms for their role in the operation.

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Inspector Jamie Eaton said: “Operation Forfeit was a significant operation which spanned many months.

“The aim was to disrupt and dismantle this Merseyside-based group trafficking Class A drugs into the Kendal and South Lakes area. Today’s substantial custodial sentences should serve as a warning to those thinking about establishing similar operations in our communities - we will catch you.

“We take a serious stance on county lines drugs criminals exploiting and targeting our communities and we will do everything in our power to put an end to these gangs operating in Cumbria.

DI Eaton continued: “Bringing ten offenders to justice meant this was a challenging and complex investigation from the start but the dedication and perseverance of the officers involved resulted in the great result we saw at court today, substantial quantities of Class A drugs prevented from reaching our communities, and the seizure of significant quantities of cash.

“We are not complacent and recognise before too long another group will be foolish enough to try their hand.

"The support of our communities in reporting drug dealing is a key tool in tackling organised criminality and we encourage members of the public to get in touch with any information that might help us.”