In January 2021, two 15-year-old boys were found in an address in Hatfield along with quantities of crack cocaine and heroin.
Th ensuing investigation found that the ‘cuckooed’ address was involved in the supply of drugs and the boys were victims of human trafficking. Officers from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Operation Mantis team executed a warrant on 3 February at an address in Essex, linked with a County Line drug network. Raphel Duke-Okeze, 24, of Blackmore Road, Buckhurst Hill, was arrest and charged during the raid.
Duke-Okeze appeared at St Albans Crown Court, pleading guilty to two counts of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs (crack and Heroin) and one count of arranging or facilitating travel of another person with a view to exploitation, contrary to Section 2(1)of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
Detective Inspector Alex Willcox, from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Command said: “Duke-Okeze ran the Ricky Line, which supplied drugs into the Welwyn Hatfield area from Essex. The disruption of this line will make a significant impact on drugs use and associated crime in the county. It also sends a clear message that drug dealing will not go unpunished and anyone involved will be caught and jailed.
“Exploitation of vulnerable people is just one of the tragic symptoms of organised drug gangs. County Lines dealers can coerce people into providing a base for dealers to operate or to act as distributers themselves. They often use young people to handle drugs and money, drawing them deeper into gang affiliation that often leads to violence and abuse.
“This is the first time we have successfully used the Modern Slavery legislation in relation to a County Lines case, after working with the Crown Prosecution Service to understand how it can be used to protect vulnerable people caught up in gang activity. This is a significant progression that will enable us to ensure County Lines drug dealers are punished for not just the drug dealing, but also for the way that they exploit young people. We want to make sure we are protecting young and vulnerable people in the county, so if you are prepared to deal drugs we will catch you and you will be punished with trafficking, as well as drug charges.”