More than 1500 arrests in drug dealing crackdown
PUBLISHED: 09:29 02 December 2019 | UPDATED: 09:29 02 December 2019
There have been more than 1500 arrests in Norfolk in connection with county lines drug dealing following the launch of a high-profile crackdown three years ago.
Norfolk police declared a "critical incident" at the end of 2016 following a spike in drug-related violence which included the murder of Steve Stannard who was ambushed in his Norwich flat and stabbed multiple times by London drug-dealer Hassiem Baqir.
The force's response to this unprecedented rise in serious violence was to launch Operation Gravity - a high profile drugs crackdown, which has been played out in almost full view of the public gaze, and has had a particular emphasis on targeting the London-based criminal contingent.
And in the three years since Gravity was launched, police revealed a total of 1503 people have been arrested, more than 1100 of which have been men, almost 200 women and more than 190 who were under 18.
Nick Davison, Norfolk's assistant chief constable, said: "Over the past three years a significant amount of resource and energy has been dedicated towards the operation and we believe that this has helped reduce the more serious violence associated with County Lines drug related crime.
"In the past year Norfolk Police have secured the region's first County Lines conviction under Modern Slavery laws and the use of this legislation is an important aspect of targeting those criminal networks who exploit vulnerable children and adults within communities for their own financial gain."
But he insisted others had an important part to play as the crackdown on county lines drug dealers continues.
He said: "Whilst enforcement continues on a day-to-day basis, County Lines is not something which can be tackled with arrests alone. County Line drug dealing is a continuous issue but at its core is the exploitation of vulnerable adults and children - that's the insidious nature of this type of crime. The only way we will be able to disrupt and dismantle these county lines is by working together with partner agencies and the community.
"We are also continuing to work with local communities to identify vulnerable residents and gather evidence of illegal drug activity.
"If we are going to protect our local communities from these crimes we must have a united front."
County lines drugs gang jailed for more than 50 years
There have been a number of big sentences related to Operation Gravity, perhaps most notably in April this year when nine members of a Great Yarmouth county lines drug gang which flooded the town with drugs were jailed for more than 50 years.
William Donkoh, 31, was given 12 years for running the "Deano" line in Great Yarmouth from his east London flat for at least five years.
Donkoh's "professional and sophisticated" gang saw at least 1kg of crack cocaine and heroin sold in the first half of 2018.
Others jailed after being convicted of two counts of conspiracy to supply class A drugs, included: Tajana Reinis, 40, of Rodney Road, Great Yarmouth who received seven years jail; Irina Rasimovic, 32, of no fixed abode got six years and Sebastian Arenas-Valencia, 21, of Wick Road, London was given 10 years in a youth offenders institution.
Operation Gravity cases
Other significant sentences to have flowed from the Operation Gravity crackdown, include:
- In June 2018 "callous and calculated" London drug dealer John Abodunrin, then 25, was jailed for eight years after establishing a "substantial drug dealing enterprise" in Norwich and Great Yarmouth.
For nine months John Abodunrin was orchestrating two county lines - named Mason and Jimmy Joe - and would send out bulk text messages to local drug users to advertise availability. Police launched an undercover operation in summer 2017, and finally swooped on Abodunrin, from Woolwich, as he arrived at Norwich bus station from London in March 2018.
- In May 2017 Curtis Richards, then 25 and Charlie Achamgpong, then 26, both of London, were jailed for a total of more than seven years after being caught bringing £5,000 of crack cocaine and heroin into Norfolk after being stopped on the A11.
Modern slavery conviction
In September this year Norfolk Police helped secure the region's first modern slavery conviction for county lines groups.
The drugs gang that "deliberately and unscrupulously" trafficked children to sell drugs on the streets of Great Yarmouth have been jailed for almost 40 years.
Norwich Crown Court heard how the 'Chase' drug gang, organised by 26-year-old Shaun Ellis from inside Wayland Prison, was responsible for flooding the streets of Yarmouth with at least a kilogram of heroin and crack cocaine between May and October of last year.
Ellis ran the dealer line while serving in Wayland Prison and got Nathan Hamilton to run the business for him while he was inside.
Drugs came from London to Great Yarmouth and investigations revealed that as part of the drugs enterprise two boys, aged 15 and 16, had been brought to Norfolk to sell drugs. They were modern slavery victims.