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More than half of 'county lines' drug dealing groups targeting Norwich

PUBLISHED: 13:58 28 January 2019 | UPDATED: 14:00 28 January 2019

Police during an Operation Gravity drugs raid on Aylsham Road, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Police during an Operation Gravity drugs raid on Aylsham Road, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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More than half of drug dealing groups using 'county lines' in Norfolk are targeting the city, according to police intelligence.

Police during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Operation Gravity is Norfolk Police's response to county lines drug dealing. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Operation Gravity is Norfolk Police's response to county lines drug dealing. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

In December 2016, after the murder of drug user Steve Stannard by dealer Hassiem Baqir, police in Norfolk launched an operation to limit the spread of county line drug dealing and the associated violence.

There had been a spike in stabbings related to drug dealing. But since Operation Gravity launched, there have now been more than 900 arrests and the number of active lines has been halved.

In a report to Norfolk’s police accountability forum, the force said: “There has been a focus on denying the use of the road network to move drugs into and around the county and a focus on the rail network to deter this being used as an enabler and to detect offenders.

“The use of intelligence and branding linked to Operation Gravity has enabled strong understanding in communities as to the issue of county lines and the reporting of drugs supply information around vulnerable people or premises.

“Enforcement activity has been a key feature of Operation Gravity aligned to other streams of protection and prevention. Since the commencement of the operation, 904 arrests have been made, with many of these arrests undertaken through the use of search warrants linked to community intelligence or through proactive deployments around individuals, vehicles or the rail network.”

Norfolk’s chief constable Simon Bailey has said of the 28 remaining county lines, only one is classified as ‘medium risk’

“We no longer have any high risk county lines operating in Norfolk, and only one medium risk line,” he said.

Dozens of dealers - often low level operators or drug addicts who have been coerced into the trade - were arrested as part of an undercover operation in late 2017 and early 2018.

Police enter a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice enter a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Codenamed Operation Granary, it has seen 87 suspected dealers arrested and many charged.

The report continues: “In March 2018 enforcement activity commenced following a 6 month undercover operation named Operation Granary, focussing on those responsible for the supply of Class A drugs.

“Through this enforcement phase, 87 people have been arrested with a small number still to be located. These cases are still progressing through the courts with a large majority of those found guilty receiving custodial sentences of between 2 and 5 years.”

From left to right top to bottom, Richard Law, Ben Matthews, Mark Wheatland, Rufin Mwamba Kongolo, Michael Katnidi, Manley Vidal and Neil Brewster. The seven were jailed for a combined 27 years for dealing Class A drugs in Norwich. Photo: Norfolk policeFrom left to right top to bottom, Richard Law, Ben Matthews, Mark Wheatland, Rufin Mwamba Kongolo, Michael Katnidi, Manley Vidal and Neil Brewster. The seven were jailed for a combined 27 years for dealing Class A drugs in Norwich. Photo: Norfolk police

Operation Granary

Two county line drug networks - the Adrian line and the Peter line - were disrupted as six of their members were sent to prison in September.

They had been duped into selling heroin and crack cocaine to an officer known as ‘Tommo’ during a seven month operation ending in arrests in April of this year.

Norwich Crown Court heard how Manley Vidal, 26, was the registered owner of two phone numbers used by the Peter network, and had ineptly sent text messages advertising heroin and crack cocaine to his social worker.

Chris Youell, prosecuting, told the court Vidal was “much higher in the hierarchy than the others”.

Mark Wheatland, 53, Richard Law, 43, and Neil Brewster, 36, all admitted supplying heroin and/or crack to Tommo on a number of occasions as part of the Peter group.

Ian James, mitigating for Vidal, said: “It is difficult to infer any sophistication...and he isn’t very good at it.”

Gavin Cowe, for Wheatland, said he had “been used” by the group as a drug addict of 35 years.

John Morgans, for Brewster, who has convictions for 112 offences, said: “He is an out of work drug addict. It is those at the very bottom most likely to get caught.”

Vidal, of Barnards Yard, was jailed for four years three months. Wheatland, of Wellington Green, was jailed for five years eight months as a three strike dealer. Law, of Northumberland Street, was jailed for 30 months, and Brewster, of no fixed abode, was jailed for three years.

Two further dealers jailed on the same day were Michael Katindi, 28, who admitted conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and Rufin Kongolo, 23, who admitted six counts of supply in their roles for the Adrian network.

Gavin Cowe, mitigating for Katindi, said a career as a professional boxer had come to an end through injury, when the conspiracy began.

John Morgans, for Kongolo, said: “He felt he had very few choices and realises now any choice would have been better than the one he ended up taking.”

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