Southampton drug gang members jailed in 'cuckooing' probe
A gang of dealers who used so-called "cuckooing" techniques to sell class A drugs worth up to £275,000 in Southampton have been sentenced.
The five men and teenager are the last to be prosecuted as part of an 18-month investigation into a drug network from London targeting users in the city.
Cuckooing is when a drug dealer takes over the property of a vulnerable person in exchange for free drugs.
The gang also sent teenagers to manage the day-to-day operation.
The network, which ran between October 2015 and April 2016, was uncovered as part of a Hampshire police operation investigating dealers from cities including London and Liverpool, cuckooing across Hampshire, Dorset, Oxford and Berkshire.
All six members of the gang were charged with conspiracy to supply heroin and crack cocaine and pleaded guilty, except for the 16-year-old who was found guilty at trial. They were:
- Craig Morris, 27, of Clitheroe Road, London, who is believed to have been the gang leader and was jailed for nine years and seven months.
- Joshua Whitter, 24, of Bennetts Close, South Malden, who had a crack cocaine production line in his kitchen and was jailed for eight years.
- Jacob Hemans, 18, of Haslemere Avenue, Mitcham, who was found by police at the stash house with more than £4,000 in cash and 200 deals of crack cocaine and heroin. Hemans was jailed for two years and three months.
- A 16-year-old who was also found at the stash house. He was given a two-year youth rehabilitation order as well as a criminal behaviour order for three years.
- Frank Nsereko, 23, of Albury Court, Mitcham, who was found in possession of 24 deals of heroin and 29 deals of crack cocaine, as well as about £1,200 in cash and jailed for five years.
- Peter Roberts, who the court heard had a "lesser role" as a street runner. He was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Southampton Crown Court heard Whitter and Morris recruited young teenagers to the network, including a boy who was just 14 when he started selling drugs on the streets of Southampton.
According to the HM Courts and Tribunal Service there have been 187 convictions of gang members linked to cuckooing in the south of England since 2015.
Analysis by Peter Cooke, BBC South Home Affairs Correspondent
This is a crime which crosses all social boundaries. I met two people from very different backgrounds. Paul lives in a rundown flat in Southampton and buys crack every week using his benefit money. He's been cuckooed before and police fear he's at risk again.
Less than two miles away I met Holly. A previous high-flyer who was introduced to class A drugs by a boyfriend. She now allows her flat to be used for drug dealing and officers think she's fallen into prostitution.
Gangs have been targeting counties in the south because there's a ready supply of customers. A National Crime Agency report recently said more than half of the towns and cities targeted are "middle-class or affluent".
It also found that criminal rivals already present in our rural areas are easily subdued by the gangs from London and Liverpool who routinely use much greater levels of violence.