A CARLISLE drug addict was beaten up and stabbed after becoming involved in a huge heroin supply plot run by a ruthless Merseyside-based organised crime group.

The city’s crown court heard an illegal county lines enterprise operated during the first tough Covid lockdown despite key players being arrested and bailed with conditions not to re-enter Cumbria.

Members of the Merseyside area organised crime gang (OCG) began establishing a contact base of illegal substance-using customers in March, 2020, with the help of street level city dealers.

“As time went on, the customer base expanded,” said prosecutor Brendan Burke.

“Customers were contacted by mass texts from whichever county lines phone was operating at any given point. Police disruption and arrests stopped the use of two such phones.”

But Mr Burke said: “Despite the arrests and fruitless police bail conditions not to enter Cumbria, the main conspirators were undeterred and resumed business immediately upon release under investigation.”

Between June 1 and September 28, 2020, 4,802 text bombs were sent to a base of would-be customers which increased each time — from 29 to 92.

“The group effected physical distribution on the ground in Carlisle by transporting heroin to the area and superintending its sale, either remotely through local sub-dealers or in person."

Four key players between them made 104 journeys to Carlisle from Merseyside and Runcorn over the period of the conspiracy, between March of 2020 and May the following year.

They also moved into addresses connected with drug addicts in Carlisle from time to time.

Detectives found there were at least 85 conspiracy-related journeys into Cumbria. These were detected by cell-siting, automatic numberplate recognition and, in the case of one conspirator, his insurer’s vehicle tracker. Evidence pointed to more than 3.6kg of heroin being trafficked.

“The obvious feature in this case is that it was intended the conspiracy continue for as long as it could. It in fact persisted in spite of multiple police disruptions until it was finally shut down by accumulating arrests and police pressure,” said Mr Burke.

A further indication of resources at the gang’s disposal was that one large drugs seizure did not deter members nor even interrupt supply.

“There were 13 trips to Cumbria in the following month,” said the prosecutor.

Keiron Lowe, 43, became involved when an associate was arrested. Lowe took possession of a burner phone and, when an OCG member made contact, he agreed to take on a criminal role.

Lowe made one trip to Liverpool, in April, 2021, to deliver cash. He was arrested near Shap during the return journey and bailed.

Lowe then disappeared. He was wanted by gang members who, the court heard, believed he had stolen from them. A formal notice warning of a threat of death or risk of murder was issued.

When later brought to court, Lowe admitted conspiring to supply heroin.

Defence barrister, Jamie Adams, said Lowe had been beset with drug addiction for over half his life despite efforts by his family to intervene. “No matter what help they offered, or what help anyone was trying to offer at the time, it didn’t work and he simply wasn’t able to take it,” he told the court.

Lowe was exploited and threatened by OCG members, said Mr Adams, who added: “He was beaten up on that single trip that he made to Liverpool. He had a bloodied nose and other bruising evident on his arrest. He was obviously very easy prey for the group.”

Of other violence meted out, Mr Adams said: “They beat him up, broke his collarbone, broke a bone in his arm. They also stabbed him in his leg.

"That was the background to his offending.”

Judge Michael Fanning concluded that Lowe’s criminal offending occurred during a limited period of around 12 days. He had 124 previous offences to his name, and was imprisoned for 40 months in 2015 for a heroin supply crime.

Judge Fanning jailed Lowe, of Baird Road, Carlisle, for 31 months, telling him: “You must have had an awareness of the scale of the operation that was going on.”