Seven members of an organised crime gang who flooded a North Yorkshire town with heroin and crack cocaine have been sentenced.
The two ringleaders of the Bradford-based gang, which peddled drugs in Harrogate have been jailed for a total of 17 years.
All seven appeared at Leeds Crown Court on Friday (December 8) and were given sentences ranging from 11 years and four months in jail to a 12-month suspended sentence.
In 2019, North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit began an investigation into the supply of class A drugs being peddled through county lines operating between Bradford and Harrogate.
A joint operation involving the Regional Organised Crime Unit, West Yorkshire Police, the National Crime Agency and the National County Lines Coordination Centre, was launched in February 2020 and saw the arrest of a number of suspects from both towns.
The heads of the operations being in Bradford and those lower down the chain coming from Harrogate.
At that time, some of the phone lines identified as being key to facilitating the sale of drugs were taken out of action through Drug Dealing Telecommunication Restriction Orders. This was to disrupt the gangs’ ability to advertise the drugs for sale.
Kyle Darius Sterling, 30, of Stubden Rise, Bradford, was jailed for 11 years and four months.
He was at the head of the operation for the so-called ‘Jerry line’ and dictated the movement of large quantities of class A drugs into North Yorkshire. This was done through the use of ‘couriers’ who travelled from Bradford to Harrogate where the drugs were sold to local users after being advertised through mass mobile phone text messages sent by Sterling.
Lee Bavin, also 30, and currently in prison, but previously of Manchester Road, Bradford, was jailed for five years and six months.
Bavin was second in command and was responsible for topping up the phone lines of the operation and travelling to Harrogate to oversee the smooth selling of the drugs. He stayed at the homes of local people while he was in Harrogate in a practice known as cuckooing.
Seven of the couriers who transported drugs and money between Bradford and Harrogate were children at the time of the investigation and have been treated as victims of exploitation and human trafficking. Safeguarding measures were put in place at the time.
Bavin and Stirling both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin. They were also charged with human trafficking offences under the Modern Slavery Act in relation to the seven children they used to supply drugs. The court agreed that these modern slavery offences would be allowed to lie on file.
Operating on behalf of Sterling and Bavin were six local drug users from Harrogate who sold the drugs on their behalf in return for payment in crack and heroin.
They were also charged supplying class A drugs and were given sentences ranging from 12 months in custody to 24 months suspended sentences. All five pleaded guilty.
Martin Gilham, 53, of Bewerley road, Harrogate jailed for 12 months for the supply of class A drugs. He was also sentenced for a separate offence of animal cruelty unconnected to the drug supply investigation. He was given 16 months in prison for this offence, making a total of two years and four months’ imprisonment. Kim Aylott, 37, of Belmont Road, Harrogate, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months. She was also given a drug rehabilitation order.
Christopher Patrick Hollowed, 57, of Swinton Court, Harrogate, was given two years’ imprisonment suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Nathan Alexis Wilsher, 38, of Fairfax Avenue, Harrogate, was given two years’ imprisonment suspended for two years. He was also given an electronicly tagged curfew between 7pm and 6am.
Haaris Khan, 24, of Grantham Road, Bradford was given an18-month sentence suspended for 18 months and required to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.
A sixth defendant failed to appear and a bench warrant was issued by the court for his arrest. He has not been named due to other outstanding legal matters.
Detective Constable Adam Heatlie, of North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit, said: “Today’s outcome is a result of a lengthy and painstaking investigation spanning several years. We are pleased to finally see the results at court and welcome the sentences that take two key drug dealers off our streets.
“They flooded Harrogate with drugs, making money at the expense of local users, the majority of whom were vulnerable due to their socioeconomic background and mental health conditions.
"They have no conscience and no concern whatsoever for the people they are putting at risk of serious harm. They now have ample time to reflect on their life-choices and the damage it causes.”
Speaking about the exploitation of the children involved, DC Heatlie added: “Bavin and Sterling showed no regard whatsoever for the children they exploited and recruited to do their dirty work in a bid to hide their own tracks and evade detection.
"They used the children as a commodity to help them make money, and to face the dangers on the streets so that they didn’t have to. They should hang their heads in shame.”
He added: “Drug dealing and the violence and exploitation that accompanies county lines remains a foremost priority for North Yorkshire Police. We are committed to disrupting the offenders and taking those responsible off the streets.
“We urge anyone with information to continue to report information about drug dealing in their area. It’s vital in helping us piece together the bigger picture.
“No matter how insignificant you think the information is, please call us. And if you don’t want to speak to us, you can pass information anonymously to Crimestoppers.”
County lines “County lines” is the term given to a form of organised crime in which drug dealers, usually from urban areas, such as West Yorkshire or Manchester, target smaller towns and cities. It takes its name from the mobile phone lines used by dealers to advertise drugs for sale. Violence and intimidation is prevalent within county lines. It is a key, operational priority for North Yorkshire Police.
A major concern for North Yorkshire Police is a practice known as cuckooing, which is where drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person and use it to store and sell drugs. They often use violence and intimidation to achieve this.
Members of the public provide invaluable information that helps shape our operational activity and we urge residents to look out for the signs of cuckooing in their neighbourhood and report any concerns they have.
To report drug dealing please call North Yorkshire Police on 101 or to remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.