Campervan gang 'blended in' with Devon and Cornwall tourists to traffic £1.4M of drugs

  • Jacquie Bird reveals the background to the police operation

Members of a drugs gang who brought £1.4million worth of drugs into Devon and Cornwall have been jailed for more than 80 years.

Devon and Cornwall Police said the dealers used "sophisticated" techniques to hide their activities, including travelling in campervans to blend in with holidaymakers.

But the operation was uncovered after officers obtained a phone which showed links to drug lines operating in Liverpool.

Now 21 men and women have been sentenced to a total of 86 years and two months in prison after days of hearings at Exeter Crown Court.

Most of the group were family and friends, operating out of Liverpool, Cheshire, Lancashire and London.

Detective Chief Inspector Sam Smoothy said the group inflicted a "significant" level of harm. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

The court heard that they trafficked cocaine and heroin into Devon and Cornwall during the course of 20 months in 2021 and 2022.

They built up networks in seaside towns including Exmouth, Ilfracombe, and Penzance to distribute the drugs.

Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Sam Smoothy said the drugs gang had a "profound and negative impact" on the communities of Devon and Cornwall.

"They have been brought to justice thanks to exemplary work by the case officer, investigation and prosecution teams," he added.

Operation Harbinger

The investigation began in early 2021 after Devon and Cornwall Police identified a group selling Class A drugs in Exeter.

Police spent months building the picture of how and where the organised crime gang was operating before they moved in and started making arrests.

Detectives made nine interventions during their operation, before a day of action where numerous forces arrested members of the group simultaneously.

The gang trafficked thousands of pounds worth of heroin into Devon and Cornwall. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

The lead conspirators

Benjamin Burns, 25, and Georgie Keating, 24, both from Liverpool controlled a number of the drug line phones.

Burns was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison while Keating was jailed for 11 years and five months.

The pair worked closely with father and son duo, Thomas Keating, 43, from Liverpool, and Christy Keating, 24, from Cheshire, who were jailed for 10 years and 10 years and five months respectively.

They hired vehicles to the cost of around £25,000 for trips around the southwest, during which they would meet up with other members of the group to help set up new lines and move drugs, cash and phones around.

Christy Keating travelled to Penzance to build up the drugs network. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

'Complex case'

Ann Hampshire, of the CPS South West Complex Casework Unit, said: “This was a complex case that resulted in the dismantling of a major organised crime group which arranged the supply of large quantities of heroin, cocaine and amphetamine into Devon and Cornwall from Merseyside.

“The trade in illegal drugs blights communities in the South West. The CPS will continue to work with our police partners across the region to disrupt and shut down these illegal networks and bring an end to the harm they cause in our communities," she added.

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