The eighth member of a Brighton drugs gang has been jailed after a ground-breaking investigation by Sussex Police and its partners.
Harley Roberts, 25, of Havalon Close, in Basildon, Essex, was jailed for seven years and four months after he admitted conspiring to supply crack cocaine and heroin and conspiracy.
He also pleaded guilty to a “modern slavery” charge of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
Judge Stephen Mooney imposed a 10-year “slavery and trafficking prevention order” (STPO) when he sentenced Roberts at Lewes Crown Court on Thursday 14 September.
The other gang members were jailed at Hove Crown Court last month and Roberts’s sentence takes the gang’s total jail time to 53 years and eight months.
It follows a two-year investigation by the Brighton Community Investigation Team (CIT) into the Hector “county line” which brought crack cocaine and heroin into Brighton from Essex during 2020.
Alongside their drug convictions, all eight defendants were convicted of modern slavery offences against four children in a rare outcome for a case such as this, Sussex Police said.
Detectives had already arrested those running the Hector line after a two-year operation, known as Op Bite, with 10 men jailed for more than 64 years as a result.
But more dealers stepped in and revived the Hector line during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
An investigation found that it was controlled by five senior leaders in Essex – Thomas Warwick, Gary Goodwin, Jayden Henry-Flavien, Liam Harvey and Harley Roberts.
Three more individuals were identified as involved in transporting people and drugs and supporting the criminal conspiracy – Dean Warrington, Cris Donovan and Nicola McKenzie.
McKenzie, a hairdresser, of Wish Court, Ingram Crescent West, Hove, allowed the group to use her flat briefly in the hope of receiving free drugs to feed her own habit.
Detectives found four children who had been recruited to deal drugs in Brighton and Hove, transported to the city by Warrington and Donovan and in some cases allowed to stay with McKenzie.
This practice is typical of county lines dealing, where gangs from other parts of the country deal drugs in places like Brighton, often exploiting children and other vulnerable people in the process.
Once found, the four children were treated as victims in the investigation and offered support by Sussex Police and community partners to help steer them away from further criminality.
During their three months of running the Hector line, the group supplied about 8,000 wraps of class A drugs in Brighton and Hove, with a street value of about £80,000.
All eight defendants were arrested in several operations from October 2020 to the summer of 2021.
They were each subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit a modern slavery offence for their role in exploiting the children, as well as conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and conspiracy to supply heroin.
All eight pleaded guilty to all of the offences against them.
The other seven defendants were sentenced at Hove Crown Court on Thursday 31 August. They were
- Cris Donovan, 31, of Richards House, Bishops Hall Road, in Pilgrims Hatch, Brentwood, in Essex – five years in prison
- Gary Goodwin, 23, of Ulfa Court, Eastwood Road, Rayleigh, in Essex – seven years in prison
- Liam Harvey, 25, of Hermitage Drive, Basildon, in Essex – eight and a half years in prison
- Jayden Henry-Flavien, 31, of Bellhouse Road, Leigh – eight years in prison, including a current sentence for drug offences in Essex
- Nicola McKenzie, 49, of Wish Court, Ingram Crescent West, Hove – two years in prison, suspended for two years
- Dean Warrington, 47, of Pamplins, Basildon, in Essex – four and half years in prison
- Thomas Warwick, 32, of Prospect Close, Southend, in Essex, and formerly of Stephenson Drive, in nearby Basildon – 11 years in prison, including a current sentence for drug offences in Essex
Five of the seven were also given slavery and trafficking prevention orders to last 10 years.
Judge Stephen Mooney sentenced seven of the gang at Hove Crown Court last month and said that the exploited children were seen as “disposable cannon fodder by those in charge who care not for the risks of violence or worse that they run as they supply drugs to desperate addicts”.
Detective Superintendent Kris Ottery said: “This effective use of modern slavery legislation shows our commitment to protecting vulnerable people affected by the illegal drug trade.
“County lines drags a wide range of innocent people into its orbit and has a devastating impact on communities that goes beyond the harmful substances themselves.
“In this instance we have not just brought eight dangerous individuals to justice for their crimes, we have also safeguarded four vulnerable children and protected innumerable other people from their harmful trade.
“I would like to commend the investigative team, our partners in the Met Police and Essex Police, and the variety of community agencies for this complex, thorough investigation that has helped make the streets of Sussex safer for everyone.”