Eight members of a 'County Lines' gang responsible for bringing more than £400,000 worth of drugs into Basingstoke have been jailed today (Wednesday) for a total of just over 43 years.
Operating from their base in East London, the so-called WEZ network targeted vulnerable drug users in the town to 'cuckoo' their homes and ensure their deals were done behind closed doors and not on the streets.
When officers stopped and arrested their drug runners, they simply sent down more, such was their influence in the drug-dealing world.
But thanks to a painstaking investigation by Hampshire Constabulary, today that network is in tatters - ending the gang’s 15-month drugs operation in Basingstoke.
At Winchester Crown Court today, (Wednesday, May 1), eightgang members charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, were brought to justice in a sentencing that spanned seven days and resulted in total custodial sentences of 43 years and two months in prison.
Heading up the operation was Ahmet Karagozlu, 20, and Ozlem Simsek, 22, who both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Our investigations showed they were earning significant sums of money, up to £5,000 a week.
His Honour Judge Parkes was told how Karagozlu, whose nickname was 'Cheeks', and Simsek, were arrested when officers executed a warrant in Reynards Close, Tadley.
The court heard that under these two, there was a network of drug dealers who were sent down from London to Basingstoke, including Karagozlu’s younger brother Halil, 18, whose nickname was 'Baby'.
They then scoped out who were their most vulnerable addicts in the town and cuckooed their homes in order to conduct their business away from the streets and prying eyes.
Between March 2017 and August 2018, the gang operated on a regular basis and it is estimated they sold more than 5kg of both heroin and crack cocaine.
As part of the extensive and painstaking police investigation, more than 420,000 lines of phone data was analysed,weapons, including zombie knives were seized, as well as over £15,000 in cash.
One of the members, Kaan Cicek, was also sentenced for two counts of wounding following the stabbing of a 39-year-old man and a 42-year-old man in Tiverton Road, Basingstoke, on October 12, 2017.
The stabbing was the result of a dispute over drugs money, the court heard. One of the men stabbed could have died from his injuries which included lacerations to his liver. Luckily though, both survived.
Cicek, 18, from Walthamstow, London, was found guilty in February following a trial.
Cicek, whose nickname was 'Caps', was Ahmet Karagozlu’s right-hand man in the drugs operation.
Sentencing him, Judge Parkes referred to the video where Cicek is seen to be singing along to drill music, waving a flick knife and making stabbing motions with it.
The Judge said he believed Cicek to have a "serious and dangerous interest in knives" and his actions in the video showed his pride in having the weapon and in "vile gang culture".
List of those sentenced today:
Kaan Cicek, 18, of Walthamstow, London, was found guilty of two counts of wounding and one count of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. He was sentenced to a total of 10 years in custody and an additional three years on licence once he has served his custodial sentence.
Byron Whitfield, 18, of Shortlands Road, London, was found guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was sentenced to seven years in a Young Offenders Institution.
Donnell Willocks, 22, of Sansom Road, London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and received a total five year custodial sentence.
Ahmet Karagozlu, 20, of Stow Crescent, Walthamstow, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was sentenced to eight years and eight months.
Halil Karagozlu, 18, of Stow Crescent, Walthamstow, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was sentenced to six and a half years in a Young Offenders Institution.
Ozlem Simsek, 22, of no fixed address, received a total of three years and four months in custody after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Matthew Keeley, 40, of Reynards Close, Basingstoke, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was sentenced to two years and eight months in custody.
The court heard he allowed his address in Tadley to be used as a base for the WEZ network. He also allowed himself to be used as an active dealer.
Diane Brill, 42, of Blackdown Close, Basingstoke, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. She must also complete a nine month drug rehabilitation order and was given an order to complete 75 hours of unpaid work.
The court heard the WEZ Network used her address for around 70 days. The Judge said he believed she was happy to be paid in drugs to satisfy her own addiction and that he was "in no doubt that to a degree she was being used by the Wez network".
The following members of the Wes network were convicted and sentenced at earlier hearings:
Abigail Forder, 22, of Essex Road, Basingstoke, pleaded guilty tobeingconcerned in the supply of Class Aand was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.
Warren Gobey, 24, of Church Lane, Basingstoke, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply Class A and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
Faith Willis, 21, of Silverwood Place, London, pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of Class A and was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
Tyler Farley, 19, Alderney Gardens, Essex, pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of Class A and was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison.
Ian Brown, 21, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of Class A and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
A 14-year-old boy from Walthamstow, pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of Class A and Possession with intent to supply Class A and was sentenced to youth rehabilitation order.
Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Constable Ian Cullen said: “Thanks to the determination, professionalism and persistence of our officers, staff and legal team, this dangerous gang has been completely dismantled.
“Investigations such as these require painstaking work to ensure all those responsible are put behind bars, not just those who are at the bottom of the chain.
“This sentencing demonstrates that we will do everything we can to stop Basingstoke being targeted by violent drugs networks because we know the harm and misery they cause to our communities.
“We wouldn’t have been able to get this success today had it not been for the support we have had from residents and businesses in the area, who helped us to build such a strong case against these people, that many had no choice but to plead guilty.
“The gang were able to evade detection by cuckooing in addresses in Basingstoke and Tadley - that included Diane Brill and Matthew Keeley.
“In Diane Brill's address, the gang filmed themselves holding thousands of pounds in cash, waving knives and singing drill music, showing off to other gangs in London.
“But with the community supporting us and being our eyes and ears on the ground, we were able to make these arrests and get some very dangerous weapons off our streets.
“We can’t tackle this problem alone but with the help of our communities, we can take action against those intent on breaking the law.
“If you have any concerns about drug-related activity in your area, please contact us on 101.”
This operation was carried out under Hampshire Constabulary's Operation Fortress - designed to combat drug related harm across Hampshire.
County Lines is the name given to drug dealing which involves organised crime groups from urban centres expanding their drug dealing activity to smaller towns and rural areas. Dealers typically use a single phone line to facilitate the supply of drugs which becomes a valuable asset and is protected with violence and intimidation.
As part of our Fortress plan we are committed to working with our partners to ensure Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is a hostile environment for those seeking to profit from drugs.
Are you concerned that cuckooing may be happening in your area? Here are the signs to look out for and what to do:
- Speak to local police on 101 or call 999 in an emergency;
- If you’d rather stay anonymous, you can call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111;
- If you are a young person who is worried about being involved in County Lines, or knows someone who is, you can speak to an adult and let them know how you feel;
- You can also contact www.fearless.org who allow you to pass on information about crime anonymously;
- You can also contact Childline on 0800 1111 – they are a private and confidential service where you can talk to counsellors about anything that is worrying you.
If you have any concerns about drug-related activity in your area, please contact us on 101