1. ITV Report

Sussex Police dismantles drugs ring - 16 convicted

Leo Ellis & Jason Caswell convicted as Sussex Police dismantle drugs ring Photo: Sussex Police

A long-term Sussex Police investigation has dismantled a complex drugs ring which was distributing heroin and cocaine across East Sussex, South East London and Kent.

It has also resulted in the convictions of 16 people, including two ringleaders who have been found guilty of conspiracy to murder and sentenced at Hove Crown Court to life imprisonment.

Jason Caswell & Leo Ellis caught together on CCTV Credit: Sussex Police

Leo Ellis from Hastings and his associate Jason Caswell acted as the main drug dealers supplying cocaine, and in Ellis’s case heroin too, across East Sussex and Kent.

Detectives from Sussex Police identified the ring and the locations from where they ran their illegal operation. In a succession of major raids and arrests officers seized a large amount of drugs and cash over several months in 2015 and 2016.

In total £1.4million in Class A drugs and £100,000 in cash were seized - officers worked closely with the National Crime Agency.

Drugs seized during the arrests Credit: Sussex Police

Because of the seizures by February 2016, Ellis and Caswell owed their dealers in excess of £850,000. Their inability to repay the debts was then worsened by further seizures of £92,475 cash and two kilos of cocaine we made within three days that month.

Detectives continued surveillance on them, as Ellis and Caswell came under increasing pressure to compensate their suppliers for the seizures. They used mobile phones to send emails discussing what had happened and what they were going to do about it.

In one conversation recorded by police at Leo Ellis's address, he boasts of having acquired guns and ammunition from Eastern Europe.

In another conversation he discusses with Jason Caswell plans to recruit someone to carry out the killings. Detectives were able to work out Ellis and Caswell had decided to eliminate their debts by murdering the people they owed money to rather than pay back the £1.4 million in drugs and cash police had seized.

Ellis arranged for another associate, Jamie Winchester, to supply a weapon - a TEC-9 style 9mm automatic sub-machine gun pistol with a silencer and ammunition.

This surveillance photo shows Winchester cycling away from a drop-off point in Cinque Ports Way, Hastings, having supplied the gun which had been in a bag strapped to his back on 1 March 2016.

Jamie Winchester caught by officers in Hastings Credit: Sussex Police

Officers tracked their movements and the gun and ammunition were seized before they could be used.

A complex surveillance operation led to two arrests - Anthony Hearn and a woman, who was not charged with any offences, in Hastings town centre, on Tuesday 1st March 2016. The weapon and ammunition were seized in the footwell of their car in Wellington Square.

The gun was a fully working machine pistol capable of firing up to 900 rounds per minute.

Machine pistol found in car in Hastings Credit: Sussex Police

Firearms experts tested the weapon to show how lethal it could have been.

Ellis and Caswell faced a ten-week trial together with three associates, Jamie Winchester, John Gardner and Simon Grant.

Ellis and Caswell pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to murder and drugs supply offences, Caswell also pleaded not guilty to money laundering, and conspiracy to supply cocaine.

Winchester pleaded not guilty to supplying the gun and ammunition.

John Gardner pleaded not guilty to drug supply offences.

Simon Grant pleaded not guilty to drugs supply and money laundering offences.

On January 10th the jury returned verdicts and sentencing took place at Hove Crown Court on Friday 23 February.

Leo Alan Ellis, who's 24 and from Mountbatten Close in Hastings, was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 14 years for conspiracy to murder two people. He was also given 10 years for supplying a firearm; 14 years for each of the three counts of conspiracy to supply heroin; eight years for one count of conspiracy to supply cocaine and another two years for a second of the same offence and a further 16 years for another offence of conspiracy to supply cocaine; two years for money laundering. He'd pleaded guilty to the money laundering and cocaine offences before the trial.

41 year old Jason Caswell, from Credon Walk in London, was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 14 years for conspiracy to murder two men. He was also sentenced to 14 years and 16 years for two counts of conspiracy to supply cocaine, and three years for money laundering.

"Both Ellis and Caswell had autonomy over the drugs supply in their home areas and both became equally indebted to their suppliers. Our interventions had a major impact on their criminality and placed significant pressure on their mounting debts.

"They believed their only way out of this situation was to plan on killing their suppliers, clearly showing the extreme and drastic action those in the drugs world are willing to take."

– Dt Chf Insp Andy Bennett, Sussex Police Organised Crime Unit

“Those sentenced were dangerous drug traffickers intent on committing horrendous crimes. With access to an automatic weapon, they posed a significant danger to ordinary members of the public, let alone their enemies.

“NCA officers worked in close collaboration with their colleagues in Sussex Police during this investigation, sharing resources and intelligence and providing specialist support to the operation.

“Through partnerships such as this one we and our law enforcement colleagues are protecting the public from serious and organised crime.”

– David Reynders, National Crime Agency
Jamie Winchester Credit: Sussex

Jamie Winchester, who's 25 and Sandy Close, St Leonards, was found guilty and was sentenced to seven years for supplying the TEC-9 style 9mm automatic sub-machine gun pistol with a silencer, and three years for possessing ammunition.

Following the sentencing yesterday, Judge Christine Laing said to Ellis and Caswell:

"You are utterly ruthless men who were ready to murder two people. Over £1 million worth of drugs and over £100,000 in cash was seized in the constant battle the scourge of class A drugs."

– Judge Christine Laing, Hove Crown Court