A man and a woman have been jailed for exploiting vulnerable teenage boys in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine throughout Devon and Cornwall.
Itman Ismail and Omorie Nixon used two 15-year-olds and two 16-year-olds to hold and sell drugs in Devon and Cornwall, including in Torquay, Plymouth and Penzance.
Police found one teenager with 80 wraps of crack cocaine weighing 10.8g and 49 wraps of heroin weighing 5g, worth £1,290, inside him. Another teen was found with 39 wraps (6.12g) of crack cocaine and 23 wraps (2.28g) of heroin, worth a total of £1,100 inside him.
If the packages inside the boys had split, they could have died.
Police also found a PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘Human Trafficking – by Itman Ismail’ on Ismail’s laptop.
Ismail, 28 and from Stratford, and Omorie Nixon, 20, from Ilford, admitted three counts of human trafficking, involving four youths, between December 2019 and March 2020. They pleaded guilty to the offences on 2 December.
Nixon was also convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs – heroin and crack cocaine – and possession of an illicit mobile phone in prison.
At Exeter Crown Court on Thursday 28 January, Nixon was sentenced to seven years and 10 months in prison and Ismail was sentenced to four years in prison.
The case is the first county lines-related human trafficking case to lead to a conviction in Devon and Cornwall.
What are 'County Lines'?
According to the National Crime Agency County Lines are "where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs. The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs."
Ismail was employed as a deputy manager with a care group in London which supported vulnerable young adults between 2017 and early 2020. She was assigned as a key worker to Nixon in December 2018.
Ismail and Nixon - who were in a relationship - came to the attention of Devon and Cornwall Police officers on 22 January last year, when officers conducted a stop-check on a vehicle they deemed suspicious.
Ismail and Nixon were inside the car, alongside two teenage boys on the A38 near Plymouth close to midnight.
One of the passengers was identified as a vulnerable young missing person and was detained.
Footage captured by an officer’s body camera reveals Ismail falsely claiming the 15-year-old in the car was “not a child”. The following day officers discovered another 15-year-old boy, registered as a missing person, as well as heroin, cash and a machete, at an address in Torquay.
The boy had been transported to the address by Ismail and Nixon, and it was a suspected cuckooed location – an address used by county lines drug dealers to d
eal drugs from.
Later in the investigation detectives located a further address in Torquay which they also believed to be cuckooed, where drugs and cash was seized.
The next day, on January 24, police stopped the same car in Torquay, discovering the defendants with a 15-year-old and 16-year-old boy in the back.
All occupants were arrested. It was at this point the drugs were discovered inside the two teenagers.
Examination of the defendants’ phones revealed searches for “drug towns” and “Torquay drug problem”.
Detectives discovered Ismail and Nixon’s repeated use of at least seven different hire cars costing around £3,400 for journeys between the Capital and the West Country.
Ismail clocked up almost 11,000 miles in four months between December and March. The internal dash camera inside one of the cars was found to have been covered over with a sticker to conceal the activity of the occupants.
On 12 March, Ismail and Nixon were arrested in a hire car in Sidcup, London.
Examination of Ismail’s bank accounts revealed more than £7,000 entered her accounts through third party transfers and cash deposits between January and March 2020 and Nixon received more than £6,000.
The victims are being safeguarded and receiving on-going support.
Detective Constable Ben Paul, who is also a modern slavery/human trafficking specialist investigator, said the 11-month investigation was "extremely complex".
He added: “Evidence showed that Nixon and Ismail arranged and facilitated the travel and accommodation of each vulnerable youth victim, and these youths were being exploited by being used to carry and deal Class A drugs.
“This type of criminal activity and exploitation puts the lives of vulnerable youths being used, at serious risk.
“This case is even more shocking due to the fact Ismail, who has pleaded guilty to human trafficking, held such a position of trust and was specifically trained and responsible for protecting and safeguarding young people.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, Devon and Cornwall Police and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for modern slavery and human trafficking, described the conviction as "the culmination of exceptional work by Devon and Cornwall Police officers who worked closely with the Metropolitan Police Service".
“The exploitation and trafficking of children and young people for drug-related purposes and other criminal enterprises can often fall under the auspices of modern slavery. This sounds shocking to all of us in the UK and can occur to children born here as well as those trafficked into the UK and exploited here.
“While the term ‘County Lines’ has fallen into everyday use, it is important that we do not use this term to airbrush out the abhorrence of criminal exploitation of children and young people, which is often what that term means."