A young member of a London criminal gang boasted to police about how much money he was making selling drugs in Swansea, and how he would soon be out of prison and back in business.
Kieran Martin also taunted police about how long it had taken them to catch him.
Swansea Crown Court heard that he had spent £115 on petrol on the four days before his arrest, and how officers found lists of local postcodes in one of his mobile phones.
The conviction of the 20-year-old is the latest example of a phenomena known as “county lines”, where organised crime gangs from major English cities such as London, Liverpool, and Birmingham run drug-dealing operations in smaller cities and towns.
Dean Pulling, prosecuting, that on the morning of October 23 this year police became suspicious of two men in a black Vauxhall Astra estate car in the city centre.
The officers followed the vehicle along Walter Road towards the Uplands area of town, and following intelligence checks decided to stop it.
When the Astra pulled onto Eaton Crescent the officers stopped the car – the driver was detained but the passenger, a shoeless and sockless Martin, made off.
Officers gave chase, and the Londoner was found hiding in a garden near Bonville Lane. When police retraced the route the fleeing man had taken, they found a discarded bag containing 173 wraps of crack cocaine and heroin.
The prosecutor said Martin was “quite talkative” when arrested, and began telling officers about how long he had been operating in Swansea, how much money he was making and how easy prison would be.
“I can ride a little prison sentence. It’s not long. I’ll get four years and do two years, light work, come back and still be f****** up the streets making bare money.
“You lot took three months to catch me, boy… ha ha. Do you know how much money I made in that three months since I been here *sniggers*. I blend in though, innit. I blend in though, you don’t expect it innit.”
Police backup was soon on the scene, and when the Astra was searched a lock knife, five mobile phones, and a rucksack containing £590 were recovered. Officers also found six garage receipts for petrol from the previous four days showing a total of £115.34 had been spent on fuel.
Mr Pulling said one of recovered mobile phones contained texts messages with local postcodes, and it is the prosecution case that the car was being used for the “mobile delivery” of drugs.
Also on the phones were bulk text messages sent to contacts including ones which read “Shop open all night give me a call” and “I’m about with good stuff”.
The prosecutor said numbers of the phone linked the defendant to a county lines gang known to the police as the John and Claire line.
Martin, of Lewes Road, Newhaven, East Sussex, had previously pleaded guilty being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine when he appeared in the dock via videolink from Swansea Prison for sentencing.
The court heard he has previous convictions for robbery, possession of an offensive weapon, assaulting a police officer, being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine, possession of heroin and cannabis with intent to supply, and possession of a prohibited item in prison, namely a knife. He was subject to two suspended sentences for drugs offences when he was caught in Swansea.
Organised crime gangs based in large English cities are extending their operations into small cities and towns around Wales using a method of working dubbed “county lines” by police.
This involves gangs identifying vulnerable people in their target towns, then taking over their houses or flats though intimidation, drug debts or sexual violence, and using the properties as bases to deal drugs from. This part of the plan is known as “cuckooing”.
The gangs then install trusted operatives to oversee the local operations and use a network of local street dealers to carry out the transactions.
Often vulnerable people are trafficked to the target towns to work for the gang – as happened when members of the notorious London gang Dem Africans transported a teenage girl to Swansea and held her prisoner in a flat in Penlan, forcing her to store drugs inside her body for them.
Couriers are used to get the drugs to the target towns and then addicts use a mobile number controlled by the gang to place their “orders” which are delivered by local dealers.
Over the past 18 months police in Swansea have smashed a number of gangs from London and Liverpool which were extending their reach into the city using this method of operating.
Codenamed Blue Thames, the police crackdown would eventually see some 46 dealers jailed for a combined total of more than 180 years.
Giles Hayes, for Martin, said there was an “element of bravado” about comments made by his client to the police, but that they also were a sad reflection of the reality of the defendant’s life.
He said Martin had experienced a “very, very difficult” upbringing in the Lambeth area of south London and had become involved in gangs and criminality from a young age.
He said such were the concerns about his vulnerability his family had been moved to Kent – but he maintained his association with the gang.
The advocate said sadly many young men in the defendant’s situation saw being part of a criminal gang as “a job” and did not really appreciate the harm their activities were having on the community.
Mr Hayes said Martin wished to apologise for his conduct.
Judge Geraint Walters said the facts of the case were “disturbingly familiar”.
He said the abuse of Class A drugs in Swansea was “a scourge which wrecks the lives of pathetic users and has a detrimental and unsettling effect on the community”.
Addressing the defendant he said: “You have been, for a number of years, a member of a criminal gang operating out of London. Over the years you have worked for them you have become a valuable member of the team, and effective operator.
“You and another male were in Swansea running a mobile delivery service. You unashamedly went about that business, feeding the cravings of those individuals to feather your own nest financially.
“Police recovered 173 ready-to-go deals – that is what you had left to sell. You had been here for a long time, filling up your car six times in the days before your arrest. Business was brisk. Business was good.”
The judge said that it was a sign of the seriousness of the criminal gang Martin was “in the employ of” that it had been able to supply him with a knife while he he had been in detention.
The judge added that the “taunting” of the police upon his arrest was not borne out of naivety but “from the feeling of self-worth you get from running with a pack”.
Giving the defendant a one-third credit for his guilty pleas the judge sentenced Martin to four years detention for each of the two Class A trafficking offences to run concurrently, and activated a total of three months of the suspended sentences he was in breach of to run consecutively – Martin’s overall sentence is therefore one of four years and three months.
He will serve up to one-half of that period in custody before being released on licence to serve the remainder in the community.
The judge said police in Swansea were rightly targeting drug supply in the city, and with increasing success, and he added “that is something the community should be grateful to them for”.