Jail for armed county lines gang who flooded Holywell with drugs

AN armed county lines drugs gang who flooded the streets of Holywell with high purity crack cocaine and heroin have been handed jail sentences totalling nearly 26 years. A joint investigation co-ordinated by North Wales Police and Merseyside Police, codenamed Operation Listen, saw GBP2,000 worth of Class A drugs seized as well as an axe and knives as the town came under siege from a Merseyside-based gang. Five of its members Bradley Bowe, David Taylor, Lisa Farragher, Sheryl Buckingham and Jordan Hewitt were jailed at Mold Crown Court today.

John Clarke, 30, of Connaught Way, Birkenhead received a prison sentence of three years and nine months at Caernarfon Crown Court last October. Bowe, said to be the key figure in the conspiracy, received a seven-year sentence. Taylor was sentenced to six years, Farragher to four years, Buckingham received two years and four months and Hewitt was jailed for two years and nine months.

Police launched their enquiries in August last year after they noticed a surge in “acquisitive crime” among the town’s drug users. The gang targeted Holywell for a period of three months (between August and October last year) during which 100s of complaints were fielded by Holywell Council from people concerned the town was “under siege” from dealers and users. The key figure in the conspiracy was Bowe.

When police raided the 21-year-old’s Birkenhead home 49 wraps of cocaine and 120 bags of heroin were discovered. Officers stepped up their patrols in Holywell and spotted two men fleeing from Pen Y Maes Wood, which a dealing hotspot. A sniffer dog found a haul of 90 wraps of cocaine and 30 wraps of heroin.

John Clarke was stopped and found have concealed heroin and cocaine in his anus. Clarke, who had GBP270 worth of drugs as well as cash on him, was also carrying an axe. Another of the defendants, Hewitt, was attacked by three men and stabbed three times with a knife, but he refused to co-operate with police.

David Taylor was caught out when he left wraps of heroin in a pair of jeans he was trying on at Peacocks menswear store. When he was stopped later he found to have GBP300 cash in his sock. Taylor said to be a street-level dealer while Farragher was a driver ferrying Bowe from the Wirral to Flintshire.

Her car was tracked by police using Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras on eight journeys into North Wales. Hewitt was just 17 when he became involved in the county lines network, while Buckingham was a local Holywell drug user who was threatened with violence to coerce her into dealing to pay off her debt. At the time she was living in a local women’s refuge and was feeding her GBP1,000 a month crack cocaine habit.

She was given a hunting knife for protection. When she was stopped by police in possession of heroin and cocaine and two phones, she declared: “The Scousers are after me.” Prosecuting barrister Brian Treadwell said the gang used four “graft phones” to run their operations and nearly 36,000 calls and texts were made on the devices.

The messages referred constantly to a man called “Jake”, who Buckingham said was Bowe. A text he sent to one drug user threatened: “Do you want me to smash your whole house up?” One customer was confronted by a man brandishing a bat after he failing to pay a debt and identified Bowe as the culprit.

In all the combined drugs haul seized by police was 142 wraps of crack cocaine and 109 wraps of heroin with a street value of at least GBP2,000. Judge Niclas Parry said: “The whole community became concerned about the increased drug problems descending on Holywell. “There was a noticeable increase in acquisitive crime and 100s of complaints to the council from people who felt the town was under siege because of drug dealing and drug use.

“Locals were afraid to come into town and police were understandably concerned about the fate of people in an area 14 miles away from another town where this type of operation resulted in the murder of an individual. “The source of this criminality was an organised crime group that was based on Merseyside. Four phones were used to generate a market and frustrate detection.

“The threat of violence was an aggravating feature. Weapons were recovered and threats of violence were made to vulnerable drug customers.” Bowe, 21, of Eagles Road, Birkenhead pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs as well as a separate charge of possession with intent to supply.

Taylor, 39, of no fixed abode and Farragher, 37, of Connaught way, Birkenhead denied two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, but both were found guilty after a trial. Buckingham, 36, who now lives at a Lancashire women’s refuge, admitted two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. As did Hewitt, 18, of Worthington Street, Whitchurch, Shropshire.

A seventh defendant, Charlie McCusker, 19 of Rosebury Avenue, Liskeard admitted being concerned in the supply of cannabis. The teenager took no part in the main conspiracy and Judge Parry told him he would be given a chance. He was ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work as part of a two-year community sentence.

For Bowe, barrister Christopher Staples said the defendant had run up debts from his addiction to cannabis. Barrister Andrew McInnes said Taylor, who had a previous conviction for supplying Class A drugs, was an addict who was funding his habit. “He was living in a caravan in Greenfield while there was financial reward to be had.

It couldn’t have been great,” he said. But Judge Parry told Taylor: “Whenever you were seen there were vulnerable drug users surrounding you.” Farragher was said to have been influenced by others and motivated by “family loyalty”.

She was said to have a good work ethic and had previously worked in the care sector. Her barrister Simon Rogers said: “She has made a significant error of judgement getting involved in this conspiracy.” Barrister Ryan Rothwell said Hewitt was “impulsive and reckless” and influenced by peer pressure.

“He has been stabbed twice as a result of his involvement.

He has missed the birth of his daughter who he probably won’t see know because of adoption procedures.”

Buckingham, had a previous conviction for supplying Class C drugs and her barrister Sarah Yates said she was “mentally vulnerable”.

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