One of the biggest drugs operations ever carried out by Cumbria Police smashed a number of county lines rings that brought misery to the streets of south Cumbria – with members receiving jail sentences totalling over 100 years.
Officers working on Operation Horizon launched more than 20 raids on properties linked to suspects in a dramatic dawn crackdown to target the gang and street dealers.
It dismantled a set-up that was trafficking drugs to the county and selling it to local users in an area that had been particularly blighted by deaths linked to substance abuse.
Today the full results are finally revealed as the last sentences to be handed out as part of the operation were imposed at Preston Crown Court.
In total, 33 people have received jail sentences following various court hearings held since the launch of the operation last year, with the combined sentence reaching over 100 years.
Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden said: “The sentences handed out and the results we have achieved through Operation Horizon should send a clear and stark message: All those who believe they can exploit areas like Cumbria through county lines should think again.
“This operation was the result of the tireless work and dedication of various police departments, partner agencies and police forces.
“It involved months of planning and the kind of vital, unseen police work that goes on around-the-clock all-year-long, but which the public is perhaps not as aware of.
“Bringing this many offenders to justice was challenging and complex.
“But the determination, tenacity and skill of all those involved led to a major victory in the battle against county lines drugs criminals in Cumbria.
“The sentences handed out are welcomed and should be seen as a warning – as well as the consequence for anyone involved in county lines drugs supply in this county.”
Operation Horizon – What Was It?
Operation Horizon was a covert operation into the supply of crack cocaine and heroin in Barrow.
The operation was the constabulary’s response to a disproportionately high number of drug-related deaths in this area.
The criminal group’s activities spanned several parts of the UK, with strands reaching into the West Midlands, London, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. As a result of this Cumbria Police carried out nationwide activity to gather evidence of the offending.
Several county lines – a crime network trafficking drugs using dedicated mobile phone lines – were identified and targeted.
Over eight months Cumbria Police, together with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, used a range of tactics to build a strong evidential case against the suspects.
Then the raids were launched, with officers targeting key locations at dawn on a cold and dark morning in January last year.
Phase one of the operation led to 20 people being charged with conspiring to supply Class A drugs.
More than £10,000 was recovered and drugs with a total street value of £20,000 were seized.
This had involved a criminal network that included drivers responsible for bringing people and drugs to Barrow from London and the West Midlands.
It also included street dealers in Barrow who provided a base for the operations.
Phase two – the onward supply in Barrow
The second phase was to target those involved in the onward supply of drugs in Barrow – including street dealers and those housing people travelling in from other cities.
Undercover police were deployed. Thirteen people were charged. Targeting this group of people is a crucial step to reduce the ability of organised crime groups to set up a local network due to the removal of numerous street dealers.
Drugs gangs targeting vulnerable people
During a third phase of the operation investigations revealed two vulnerable teenagers were trafficked to Barrow to run drugs into the town.
Officers were in Egerton Court in Barrow when they became suspicious of two teenagers, later identified as the victims of trafficking. Arrests made were subsequently connected to evidence gathered by Operation Horizon resulting in three people being charged. This led to convictions in connection with modern day slavery – sending out a further warning to those involved in the exploitation of people.
The ongoing fight against county lines
Work to tackle county lines drug supply and other drugs crime continues – as does work with partners to deal with the issue.
Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden added: “Operation Horizon is part of a holistic, overall approach to the use and supply of drugs in Cumbria.
“We continue to collaborate with partner agencies to tackle not only the criminal but social issues of drug supply and demand.
“We would also like to take this opportunity to pass on a message to drug users and their families.
“Do not succumb to the temptation or pressure to work with or for outside crime groups.
“There is help out there. Seek assistance from the authorities or ask a friend or family member to do so on your behalf.
“Cumbria Police will be relentless in targeting and disrupting all those involved in exploitative drug supply.
“We appeal to all of the community to help us.”
Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said: “Operation Horizon has been a great success both for Cumbria Constabulary and for the residents of Cumbria.
“It would be naïve to think we had caught all dealers but we need to be clear that we will not tolerate drug dealers coming in to the county, targeting our most vulnerable people and using them to sell and house illegal drugs.
“The police will continue to be relentless in pursuing and bringing prosecutions against anyone who deals in this destructive trade.
“Residents deserve to live, work and travel in Cumbria in safety, without the fear of criminals and the effects of the drug trade and that is what the Constabulary and I work towards every day: making Cumbria an even safer place to live.
“These prosecutions are a great accolade for the professionalism and effectiveness of our police who will continue to bear down on anyone involved in drug dealing.
“However; this is a community matter and we all have a part to play.
“As a society we need to do more to try and address the reasons people use illegal drugs and as individuals we can all help the police by reporting any suspicious activity – the police cannot act without information.
“I would urge anyone with information to contact the Police on 101, 999 in an emergency or report it anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Operation Horizon – Some facts and figures
- There were 22 warrants executed and six other searches of homes carried out.
- The main warrants were executed between January 7 and January 9 2019.
- Warrants were executed in London, Coventry and Barrow – as well as Liverpool at a later date.
- The total weight of drugs recovered was approximately: 152g of crack cocaine and 44g of heroin. The street value was about £23,910. Amount of cash seized: £11,500.