SUBSTANTIAL jail terms have been handed to five members of a 'county lines' drugs gang who brought heroin and crack cocaine to west Cumbria.
Following a major police investigation, the gang's operation to flood the streets of Workington, Maryport and Whitehaven with class A drugs was successfully smashed and seven of those involved - five men and two women - were today sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court.
Police seized drugs worth more than £50,000 - but prosecutors believe crack cocaine and heroin worth up to £200,000 was brought to west Cumbria during the ten-month conspiracy.
The drug trafficking operation ran between July of 2019 and February of the following year, prosecutor Julian Goode told the court.
The conspiracy's “king-pin” was 27-year-old Liverpool man Shaun Doyle.
Mr Goode said Doyle made repeated trips to Workington, where he recruited other criminals to work as street-dealers, supplying heroin and crack cocaine.
In the dock alongside him were:
• Jacob Hughes-O’Brien, 27, of Altfinch Close, Liverpool. He admitted two counts of conspiring class A drugs – crack cocaine and heroin; and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.
• Thomas Jameson, 29, of Towers Road, Liverpool, who also admitted the same Class A drug conspiracy charges, as well as four counts of possessing drugs with intent to supply.
• Karen Pullen, 37, of Senhouse Street, Maryport, denied two counts of conspiring to supply Class A drugs but was convicted after a trial.
• James Postlethwaite, 46, also of Senhouse Street, Maryport, was also convicted of the same two offences after a trial.
• Paula Jackson, 38, of Co-operative Terrace, Flimby, admitted conspiring to supply crack cocaine.
• Lee Kirkpatrick, 38, of Wollen Croft, Stainburn, Workington, admitted allowing his premises to be used for the supply of class A drugs.
A key ploy used by the gang, the court heard, was the use of “text flares,” multiple messages sent simultaneously to local drug users, advertising what was for sale, the prices, and where and when they could be bought.
The first clear indication of the conspiracy, said Mr Goode, on August 21, 2019, police stopped a Ford Fiesta in which Doyle was the passenger.
Hidden in his trousers was £12,000 worth of crack cocaine.
Doyle was also carrying several mobile phones, their contents revealing his “pivotal role” in the conspiracy.
Police believe the operation involved up to 25 drug runs from Liverpool to Cumbria, with the transportation of between five and eight kilograms of cocaine.
The prosecutor outlined the roles of the defendants.
Hughes-O’Brien was Doyle's "trusted lieutenant." He was caught after he travelled to Workington by train, carrying a haul of drugs worth £40,000. He also had a phone used in the the “text flares.” Its messages showed he had been to Cumbria on “numerous occasions,” said Mr Goode.
Jameson was used as a courier, the court heard.
Police saw him arrive in Workington by train in November, 2019. He was wearing a tie and blazer and appeared to be a smartly dressed commuter, said Mr Goode. When arrested he was carrying November, 2019, carrying £1,125 in cash. He claimed he was carrying the cash in exchange for his drug debt being reduced.
Pullen and James Postlethwaite - who were in a relationship - were drug users who became "runners" for the higher-level dealers.
Jackson was implicated by text messages, including one which referred to unsold drugs and her decision to "call it a day."
Kirkpatrick allowed his property to be used for dealing.
James Heyworth, for Doyle, of Reedale Road, Liverpool, said that rather than being a "king-pin", his role more akin to that of an "area manager".
Mr Heyworth said: “He is clearly someone who has a relationship with drugs but not someone who suddenly became a king-pin in a West Cumbria organised crime group. It’s accepted he’s above the others.
“But to use the phrase ‘like a king-pin’, or head of an organised crime group, means he is the last man; there is nobody above him. He was sent to Cumbria, to Workington, to act in the sort of role one might attribute in a legitimate business to that of an area manager, to oversee the operation on behalf of others.”
In a letter to the judge, Doyle apologised.
He wrote: “I got into selling drugs through my own addiction. Threats were made to me and my family and this caused a vicious cycle in which I was trapped and saw no way out other than by doing what I was told.”
Mark Shepherd, for Hughes-O’Brien, said he had spent two years and two months on remand. “He was misusing drugs and unfortunately that is a factor of his adolescence and early adulthood,” said the lawyer, adding that Hughes-O’Brien had shown remorse.
He was regarded in jail as a “model prisoner”.
Ian Whitehurst, for Jameson, said the defendant was a man of previous and “positive good character”, who had battled drug and gambling addictions.
Now free of those addictions, he too was remorseful.
Charlotte Kenny, for Pullen, described her as “fragile”. Addicted to illicit drugs since the age of 12, she had a history of suicide attempts and self-harm, but she was now moved to using legal alternatives. “She is capable of rehabilitation,” said the barrister.
Brendan Burke, for Postlethwaite, said his life had been a "a wretched existence of addiction." He helped the conspiracy in exchange for drugs. David Morton, for Jackson, said her background included a “dark story” and this lay behind her offending. But she had made “huge improvements” in her life and her drug addiction was now behind her, he said.
Judge Richard Archer said Doyle preyed on vulnerable drug users. He was jailed for ten years and one month.
Hughes-O'Brien - Doyle's right hand man - was jailed for seven years. The judge said Jameson was a streetwise and trusted courier, who ran his own drug dealing operation.
He was jailed for four years and 10 months.
Judge Archer said drug addiction had wrecked the lives of Pullen and Postlethwaite, but despite knowing the misery drugs caused, they repeatedly supplied Class A drugs. Pullen and Postlethwaite were each jailed for three years and six months.
The judge said Jackson was not motivated by financial advantage but was pressurised by a former partner. Noting she had taken steps to rehabilitate herself, the judge imposed a two year jail term, suspended for two years. She must do 100 hours of unpaid work and complete 30 days of rehabilitation activity, as well as a drug rehabilitation requirement.
Lee Kirkpatrick - said to be affected by mental health difficulties - was given 24 weeks in jail, suspended for 18 months.
He must complete 100 hours of unpaid work.