In a landmark case under Modern Slavery legislation, three gang members from London have been sentenced to more than 12 years’ imprisonment for human trafficking offences, after they used young and vulnerable people from south London to transport and sell drugs in Hampshire.
Today at Inner London Crown Court, Michael Karemera, 25 of Lewisham was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for three counts of trafficking.
Dean Alford, 25, of Canterbury was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for two counts of trafficking.
Glodi Wabelua, 25 of Tottenham was sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment for one count of trafficking.
All three men were also given 15-year-long Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPO), which come into force on release from prison. These severely restrict their use of mobile phones, SIM cards and computers for the duration of the order. The men will also be unable to drive a car with anyone under the age of 18 inside, apart from family members, and will need to register their addresses, mobile phone numbers and computers with police.
The judge presiding over the case, Judge Karu, also commended Acting Detective Inspector Simon French and PC James Skeete for their ‘extensive, detailed and thorough investigation’.
Officer in the case, Acting Detective Inspector Simon French, said:
“I am very pleased with the sentences imposed in this case, which send a clear message to those criminals who exploit young and vulnerable people, that the seriousness of their crimes will result in an additional sentence being imposed. In addition, the imposition of Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders will mean that on release, the use of the very technology which enabled them to carry out these crimes in the first place, will be restricted, which can only be a good thing.
“The complex nature of this investigation and the determination of my officers to pursue human trafficking charges demonstrates how seriously we take the issue of county lines. This case has taken five years to reach this point, following a successful ruling through the Court of Appeal in June 2018, but we now have clear guidance on how this legislation should be interpreted, making it clear that any person involved in trafficking the victim for drug supply can be prosecuted, whatever their role.”
Previously, on 17 April at Inner London Crown Court, Glodi Wabelua, 25 of Tottenham was found guilty of one count of trafficking, contrary to Section 4(4) of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 (now Section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015).
Dean Alford, 25 of Canterbury and Michael Karemera, 25 of Lewisham had both been charged with three counts of trafficking and both stood trial. Alford pleaded guilty at the close of the prosecution’s case, and Karemera pleaded guilty part-way through cross examination.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Pibera, saw officers from the Met’s Trident and Area Crime Command use human trafficking legislation to bring Alford, Karemera and Wabelua to justice.
The six victims in the case were exploited by the three men, who each ran lucrative drugs lines – telephone numbers which drug users in Portsmouth called to buy class A drugs.
Victims came to notice when they were arrested by Hampshire Police for drugs supply offences in Portsmouth in Spring 2014. Hampshire Police liaised with Trident when it was established that all five individuals came from south London and an investigation was launched by Trident to establish how they came to be dealing drugs in the city.
A vulnerable adult, came to notice via an outreach worker. He provided evidence at the Inner London Crown Court behind a screen to protect his identity. He told the court that when he tried to extricate himself from the gang lifestyle, he was stripped naked by associates of Karemera and had a gun placed in his mouth, threatening him with his life if he didn’t comply.
The victims were recruited, groomed and trafficked by the defendants’ organised crime group. They were directed to travel to Portsmouth on many occasions to restock drugs, putting their physical wellbeing at great risk.
Alford, Karemera and Wabelua controlled the victims, harbouring them within drug users’ homes in Portsmouth, and controlling their travel and freedom of movement. The victims received instructions via mobile phone, telling them where to sell or drop off drugs.
Whenever class A drugs were available, a text message was sent out by the defendants via their drugs lines to all their customers. Users would call back to place their order. It was not unusual for a drugs line to receive 200-300 incoming calls a day from drug users. Alford, Karemera and Wabelua frequently met the victims at night to re-supply the drug lines and to facilitate individual drug deals on the streets of Portsmouth.
Each line had its own ‘brand name’ to ensure users knew who the message was from, even when the number had changed. Alford ran the ‘Duffy’ line, Karemera ran the ‘Mitch’ line and Wabelua ran the ‘Fly’ line.
After selling the drugs, the victims would deposit the earnings, which could be as much as £2000 a day.
The Victims were too scared to provide statements to police about their ordeal. Detectives, therefore, used DNA evidence and mobile phone data to establish that Alford, Karemera and Wabelua were controlling them, directing them to collect drugs from London and transport and sell them to users in Portsmouth.
On 10 September 2014 officers attended HMP Winchester and arrested Dean Alford for conspiracy to supply class A and human trafficking. A search warrant was also executed at an address in Waddon Hall, Petham where Alford had lived.
On 10 October 2016 police attended HMP Long Lartin and charged Dean Alford with intentionally arranging/facilitating travel within the UK of a person with a view to their exploitation in relation to victims.
On 10 September 2014 police attended an address in Winterwell Road, SW2 and arrested Michael Karemera on suspicion of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs and human trafficking. A search warrant was executed the following day at an address in Blondin Way, SE16.
On 10 October 2016 police attended HMP Whitemoor and charged Michael Karemera with intentionally arranging/facilitating travel within the UK of a person with a view to their exploitation in relation to the victim.
On 10 September 2014 officers executed a search warrant at an address in Lordship Lane, N17. Glodi Wabelua was arrested for supplying class A and human trafficking.
On 11 October 2016, police attended HMP Brixton and charged Glodi Wabelua with intentionally arranging / facilitating travel with the UK of a person with a view to their exploitation in relation to .
The drugs supply offences were dealt with first, and resulted in all three men being convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs (crack cocaine and heroin) in February 2016 at Woolwich Crown Court.
Alford received an eleven year sentence, to run consecutively with a three year sentence for perverting the course of justice.
Karemera was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.
Wabelua received a sentence of six years eight months after an early guilty plea.
Subsequently the human trafficking offences were dealt with, resulting in today’s sentences.
Safeguarding lead of the National County Lines Coordination Centre, Tim Champion, said: “Exploiting vulnerable children in this way is unacceptable and individuals who do this will be prioritised and find themselves additionally convicted of human trafficking offences, which are often subject to long prison sentences.
“The issue of county lines is very complex and brings together deep-rooted criminal behaviour, such as gang membership, drugs supply, drug abuse and human trafficking. This case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between Police and partners and I believe that today marks an important step forward in tackling this problem.
“All young people coming to notice in this way are now assessed and subject to safeguarding intervention and support to give them the best possible chance of exiting the lifestyle that they have been forced into.”
DAC Duncan Ball from the MPS and NPCC County Lines lead, said: “This is an important conviction based on an excellent investigation from officers within the Metropolitan Police Service. I would like to thank the Crown Prosecution Service for their support and diligence in bringing this case to its successful conclusion. Use of modern slavery legislation is an important aspect of targeting those criminal networks who exploit vulnerable children and adults to maximise their profits from drug supply. Today’s convictions send a clear message that we will utilise all legislation nationally to suppress county line activity.”
Specialist Prosecutor Kate Mulholland, from the CPS, said: “This case represents one of the few times that drug dealers have been prosecuted for arranging the travel and exploitation of teenage couriers. The thorough prosecution case included covert policing techniques and use of mobile phone data. We were also able to prosecute this landmark case without the need for the children, who were victims of crime, to give evidence.