A ‘County Lines’ drugs gang which supplied heroin and crack cocaine into market and spa towns from the West Midlands has been jailed for more than 40 years.
In an undercover sting, police from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit − alongside West Mercia Police − identified a gang of six people running drugs from Birmingham into Ledbury and Malvern.
Officers estimated the ‘Uzi Line’ − as it was known − supplied around 2kg of Class A drugs and made more than £150,000 over a 12-month period supplying 133 customers on its books.
Birmingham men Zoheeb Habib, Usman Rafiq, Atieb Osman and Mohinoor Rashid, plus Denise Lynch from Aston and Kane Payne from Oldbury, were jailed for a total of more than 40 years for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
They are the first convictions in a wider regional police offensive − codenamed Operation Ballet − targeting suspected County Lines drugs dealers.
Detective Inspector Julie Woods from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit is leading Operation Ballet.
She said: “Op Ballet is the largest operation of its kind ever carried out in the region and in June saw West Midlands Police team up with West Mercia colleagues to carry out a series of raids across the region and London.
“In total, the operation has netted 75 suspected drug dealers believed to be involved in a total of 10 County Lines operating out of the West Midlands and the capital. Some are awaiting sentence after admitting drug dealing while other are facing trial.”
Police stopped Habib (27) and 26-year-old Rafiq as they were travelling in a car on Worcester Road, Malvern, on 20 June last year shortly after capturing evidence of them striking a drug deal in Knapp Lane, Ledbury.
Habib’s DNA was later found on a wrap of heroin recovered from the drug exchange and a search of Rafiq’s home in Cole Hall Lane, Shard End, uncovered a phone that was shown to have been used to run the Uzi Line.
Further covert tactics identified that associates Atieb Osman (27) and 22-year-old Mohinoor Rashid were also making regular trips from Birmingham to Ledbury and Malvern to fulfil Uzi Line orders placed by ‘customers’.
They were stopped in a hire car on January 24 this year by officers who found them with several mobile phones − analysis of which later showed them to be drugs hotlines − plus £400 in cash.
And enquires with the car rental firm revealed brazen Rafiq had used an email address containing the word ‘UZI’ when completing paperwork for the car.
Text message showing Uzi county lines gang codename
Two more people − Kane Payne, a 19-year-old from Ivy House Road, Oldbury, and 50-year-old Denise Lynch from Fentham Road, Aston − were arrested on 22 February in Wells Road, Malvern, and found to also be completing drugs orders placed via the line.
Lynch and Payne have been jailed for two-and-a-half years
In June, all six were charged with conspiring to supply heroin and crack cocaine.
Habib, from Wilson Road in Lozells; Osman, from Stafford Road, Handsworth; Rashid from Albert Road in Handsworth; Payne and Lynch all admitted their involvement but Rafiq denied being part of the conspiracy.
However, a jury at Worcester Crown Court needed just an hour to deliberate before returning a guilty verdict against the 26-year-old and today (16 Nov) he was jailed for 12 years.
Osman was jailed for nine-and-a-half years, Habib for eight years and Rashid for six years, while Lynch and Payne were both handed jail terms of two-and-a-half years.
Superintendent Sue Thomas, Policing Commander for Herefordshire, said: “Operation Ballet is part of West Mercia Police’s broader ’Protect’ campaign to tackle serious and organised crime.
“We are determined to protect our communities from the supply of illegal drugs which are often targeted at the most vulnerable. We want to make it clear to offenders that there will be consequences should they engage in dealing illegal drugs.
“This operation is not over. Further arrests and warrants are planned to tackle those who are suspected of being involved in transporting drugs across county lines. We continue to work with other police forces and law enforcement partners to target those who traffic drugs from larger cities to more rural counties like Herefordshire.”