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Killer convicted of heading-up County Lines drug chain

A man already serving life behind bars for ordering a believed drug rival's murder has been convicted of trafficking heroin and crack cocaine after West Midlands and West Mercia police exposed him as the head of a County Lines network.

Artaf Hussain, from Slater Street in Tipton, received a life sentence last August for ordering the fatal stabbing of a man in Hereford who he'd been told had clashed with one of his street dealers.

Both he and knifeman Anthony Boyd were found guilty of the murder.

At Worcester Crown Court yesterday (27 June), Hussain was handed a nine-year prison term after admitting to being the head of a County Line drug network that supplied up to £300,000 of Class A drugs in Hereford from the Black Country.

The sentence will run concurrently to his life term.

Detectives from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) teamed up with Hereford CID in June 2017 to launch a covert operation into the 'Scooby' narcotics line, as it was known.

The work identified Hussain as the line's lynchpin who used at least 16 different phones to coordinate drug deliveries by his County Lines couriers in Hereford. 

Harvinder Bangal worked closely with Hussain and when police raided his flat in Cannock Road, Wolverhampton, they found £1,000 worth of heroin and crack cocaine.

Daniel Quinn (31) from Radford Close, Walsall; Albert Morris (22) of no fixed address; Anthony Lowe (29) from Essex Street, Walsall, and 20-year-old Mitchell Arnold - who was found in possession of a knife at the time of his arrest - from Blossomfield Road, Tipton, were all arrested for dealing drugs. 

Paul Chamberlain was also detained after officers found the 47-year-old willingly allowed the Scooby runners to supply drugs from his home address in Hereford's Lichfield Avenue.

All of the defendants admitted conspiring to supply Class A drugs and were sentenced at Worcester Crown Court on Thursday (27 June). 

Quinn and Morris were jailed for six years nine months and six years four months, respectively, Lowe was handed a four year 10 month sentence, and Arnold put behind bars for three years eight months.

Bangal was also imprisoned for two years and nine months, but the judge gave Chamberlain a 24-week jail term suspended for two years for his lesser role.

The convictions are the latest in a series of successes for a West Midlands and West Mercia Police campaign - codenamed Operation Ballet - targeting County Lines drugs networks.

A total of 10 such drugs chains were identified and suspects arrested during an offensive in May last year that saw dozens of men detained.

To date, 33 offenders have been jailed for a combined total of 160 years.

West Midlands Police Detective Inspector Julie Woods oversaw Op Ballet. She said: "Our investigation suggested Hussain was moving drugs into Hereford on a daily basis - but following a previous arrest in 2016 he was reluctant to get hands-on so instead used West Midlands-based runners to courier drugs on his behalf.

"The level of violence he was prepared to use in order to protect his drugs line was evidenced in the shocking stabbing of a man in Hereford in broad daylight.

"The drugs conviction may not add any more time to his jail sentence but it does now give us the opportunity to scrutinise his accounts and dealings - and to seize any cash or assets accrued through drug dealing under the Proceeds of Crime Act."

Detective Inspector Ross Jones of Hereford CID said: "Yesterday's sentencing is another great result in the combined work of West Mercia and West Midlands police.  Operation ballet has now put 33 offenders in prison for a combined total of 160 years.

"It is horrific that Robert Eacock was stabbed in broad daylight in January 2018, in a deliberate act of violence in Hereford. We won't accept violence and criminality on our streets and we will continue to target those who supply drugs into our county to disrupt their criminal network.

"I hope this serves as a warning to those who are considering getting involved in county lines drug activity that we are working with our neighbouring forces and will continue to target those who come into our county to supply drugs and disrupt their criminal network."

West Mercia Police is currently running Protect aimed at working in partnership with other agencies to tackle serious and organised crime. To find out more about the campaign visit www.westmercia.police.uk/protect

To report information to police ring 101 or alternatively information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

In an emergency or if a crime is taking place always ring 999.

Issued: 3.30pm, 280619, MC

Published 28/06/19