County lines operation saw teen, 14, store drugs in teddy bear, court hears
- Credit: Archant
Two men involved in a county lines operation which saw a 14-year-old boy store crack cocaine and heroin in a teddy bear have been jailed.
Terry Coogan, 32, and Leonardo Cardoso, 22, appeared before Norwich Crown Court on Tuesday morning in connection with drug offences in the Norwich area between November 2019 and February 2020.
Both pleaded guilty to the supply and possession of heroin and crack cocaine, but whereas Cardoso also pleaded guilty to two counts of trafficking, Coogan pleaded not guilty to these. He was later found guilty at a Norwich Magistrates' hearing in April.
The court heard the two men were part of an "extensive network" of county lines from London to Norwich.
Duncan O'Donnell, prosecuting, told the court CCTV footage had shown both Coogan and Cardoso at Norwich Rail Station in the early hours of the morning after returning from London on February 9, 2020, to pick up drugs.
On the night of February 9, Coogan and Cardoso were arrested at Barton Mills service station driving a Nissan Qashqai from Norwich to Grantham with a 14-year-old on board after he had been persuaded to take part in the operation.
A handset and phone were seized by police showing county lines activity as part of the so-called Hunter line operation.
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Officers had been alerted to concerns for the 14-year-old's whereabouts, the court heard. The same boy was subsequently arrested at a property after being found storing crack cocaine and heroin in a teddy bear on February 13, 2020.
Mitigating for Coogan, of Basildon, Ian Bagnall disputed he had a leading role in the operation, telling the court he held "operational or management function within a chain" instead.
And Ian James, defence for Cardoso, said the Brazilian was in debt with nowhere to go at the time in connection with his immigration status.
Mr James said: "The line was already operational at the time. [Cardoso] was released a matter of some 20 to 30 days before and he is hardly a fundamental cog in the running of the mechanism of this line.
"As far as I can see there is no evidence of significant financial gain to him from his involvement."
He added that his client intends to return home to Brazil when his sentence has finished.
Recorder John Bate-Williams sentenced Coogan to nine years and eight months in jail, and six years for Cardoso, with both serving the second half of their sentences released on licence for service in the community.
A 10-year order for section 14 of the Modern Slavery Act was also applied to both to protect the boy exploited for the operation from the physical or psychological harm likely to occur.
This is applied by a court is there is a risk the defendant may commit a slavery or human trafficking offence.
County lines is used to describe the involvement of criminal networks and street gangs in moving illegal drugs from cities to other parts of the country with vulnerable young people being targeted as part of the activity.