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A man who controlled the supply of class A drugs into Chester has been jailed along with the members of his organised crime group (OCG).
Christopher Martin was the controller of a gang he named as the ‘Tom’ team.
He recruited 10 people – including his girlfriend Sophie Fletcher – to ensure crack cocaine and heroin were sold to drug users in the city.
Martin would travel from his home in Merseyside to oversee the running of the county lines team and stay overnight in Chester hotels after carrying out his criminal activity.
Meanwhile Fletcher and John Turner were enlisted to transport the drugs from Merseyside to Chester on his behalf. They either travelled into the city by taxi or with Martin in his Range Rover.
Fletcher was also responsible for packaging the drugs into smaller quantities ready for onward supply.
The pair instructed Michael Davies, Peter Morley and Kelly Munday to stand in alleyways and on street corners to sell the drugs to users.
Carl Kelly regularly travelled to Chester to give orders and instructions to those dealing on the streets to ensure the supply of the drugs continued to run smoothly.
This evidence was gathered over a 12-month policing investigation by detectives from Chester local policing unit – codenamed Operation Longhand – which led officers to seize £10,000 worth of crack cocaine and heroin.
Overs the course of the police investigation the county lines team are estimated to have profited between £94,000 and £186,000.
After collating the evidence, consisting predominantly of telecoms and CCTV footage, the gang were arrested on Tuesday 8 March 2022.
Three members of the gang - Martin, Turner and Fletcher - were sentenced at Chester Crown Court on Wednesday 8 June 2022 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin.
The other members of the gang were sentenced at later dates at Chester Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin.
Judge Steven Everett praised the operation stating that this was an 'extremely greedy' county lines team that have now been taken off the streets.
The court heard how their activity was operating under a county lines drugs conspiracy.
A term used to describe how gangs export illegal drugs from urban to rural areas and use mobile phones – known in the criminal world as a graft – to send text messages – known as flares – advertising the sale of crack cocaine and heroin.
Over the course of the policing investigation the gang were found to be using around six graft phones that sent hundreds of messages to local users daily.
Richard Pendleton provided his home as a base for Martin’s gang to facilitate their activity. He also ensured the profits made from drug dealing were sent back to those higher up the chain as well as alerting local users when the drugs had been restocked.
The gang were also using properties in Chester as places to store the drugs including the homes of vulnerable people – a term known as cuckooing.
Cheshire Constabulary Detective Constable Richard Connolley said: “Martin was a switched on and sophisticated criminal. He used an encrypted messaging service to hide the conversations he was having about his criminal activity in order to make them secure.
“However, despite his attempts to be discreet and recruiting others to do the hands-on work he remained active which made him easily identifiable to police.
“Over the course of the investigation we gathered evidence that showed exactly what role each person played and how the team operated. Then on top of that the local community were coming forward to report seeing drug dealing occurring on their street and in alleyways which strengthened our case.
“I want to take this opportunity to encourage the local community to keep reporting drug activity to police so that we can continue to put organised crime gangs in prison.”
If you have information relating to drug activity taking place in your community please report it via our website or anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and Cheshire Constabulary will do the rest.
To spot the signs of county lines criminality visit the Impact page on our website.