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Eight members of a Brighton drugs gang have been convicted of drug offences and exploiting children to deal drugs on their behalf after a ground-breaking investigation.
The eight guilty pleas follow a two-year investigation by the Community Investigation Team (CIT) into the HECTOR county drugs line, which brought crack cocaine and heroin into Brighton from Essex during 2020.
Alongside drug convictions, all eight defendants were convicted of modern slavery offences against four children in an extremely rare outcome for a case such as this.
This was the second iteration of the HECTOR line, which was first dismantled after a two-year operation by Sussex Police that saw ten men jailed for a total of more than 64 years.
Police became aware of the HECTOR line returning to operation under new leadership towards the end of 2020 and an investigation revealed 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 being involved in the transportation of people and drugs, and support of the criminal conspiracy – Dean Warrington, Cris Donovan and Nicola McKenzie, who allowed the group to use her property in Brighton as a base of operations.
The investigation also found four children 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 larger urban cities deal drugs in smaller, more rural areas, often exploiting children and other vulnerable people in the process.
Once located, the four children were treated as victims in the investigation, safeguarded 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 around 8,000 wraps of Class A drugs in Brighton and Hove, with a street value of around £80,000.
All eight defendants were arrested in several operations between October, 2020 and 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.
At Hove Crown Court on Tuesday (16 May), Donovan, Roberts and Harvey pleaded guilty to all counts. The other five defendants had already pleaded guilty at previous hearings.
The eight defendants are:
They are due to be sentenced at a court to be confirmed on Thursday, 31 August.
Detective Inspector Dee Wells, of Brighton and Hove’s Community Investigation Team, said: “These eight defendants thought they could pick up the HECTOR drug line from its previous holders and sow a similar trail of destruction through our communities.
“Just like their predecessors, they have now been brought to justice.
“Not only were we able to protect the public from harm, four vulnerable children were safeguarded and given the opportunity to grow up away from a life of violence and crime.
“Eight convictions for modern slavery offences is extremely rare in this case and demonstrates our commitment to ensuring those involved in county lines face justice for the full extent of their crimes.
“This was a long, complex investigation that brought together a wide range of teams, our partners in the Met Police and Essex Police, and a variety of other community agencies. I would like to thank them for their support.
“I would also like to commend my colleagues in the CIT for their incredible work in achieving these convictions as we look ahead to sentencing.”