Scarborough Police smash 'county lines' drugs gang from Liverpool

Harwood, O'Donoghue and Dean
Harwood, O'Donoghue and Dean

Detectives in Scarborough have brought down a Liverpool-based “county lines” drug operation that has seen 10 people jailed for a combined total of  37 years.

On Monday the leader of the gang, Thomas Dean, 28, from Liverpool, was sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin.

His co-conspirators, Adam Harwood, 27, of Walton, Liverpool, was jailed for six years and nine months, and Christopher Michael O’Donoghue, 49, of Cherry Lane, Liverpool, was jailed for five years.

A fourth member, Matthew Williams, 26, of Elmore Close, Liverpool, was given a 10-month suspended sentence for money laundering.

Six other members of the operation, described as the “foot-soldiers”, were previously jailed in 2017 for a total of 17 years and five months, bringing the combined jail terms for the dismantled gang to 37 years.

Thomas Dean was the controlling head of the drugs operation based in Liverpool between July and November 2016. After being released from prison for a similar crime in Weston-super-Mare, he travelled to Scarborough to establish himself as the main drug dealer in the town, using threats of violence and recruiting street dealers for his operation.

Prosecutor Anthony Moore said the gang made regular trips to Scarborough because they were hell-bent on “taking over” the hard-drugs market on the east coast. Although there are no estimates as to their financial again from the operation, the court heard it was “substantial”.

They had exploited “vulnerable adults”, threatening them with violence “to create a base for the supply (of drugs)”, said Mr Moore.

The “organised criminal gang” raked in lucrative sums by “eliminating the competition from these smaller areas” during the “extensive” operation, he added.

During their five-month reign, the gang hawked their wares by sending out over 25,000 text messages, some of them threatening, to drug users across “four separate (coastal) locations”.

When the drug network in one area unravelled and “closed down”, the dealers moved “almost seamlessly to another location”.

The prosecution said that Dean, of no fixed abode, had previous convictions for violence including aggravated burglary and firearms possession in Cheshire, where he terrorised a jeweller and his family during a masked raid which led to a seven-year prison sentence.

Dean, described as a “controlling and manipulative mind”, was released from a previous seven-year jail sentence for drug offences in July 2016 – just a few weeks before he set up the Scarborough network while on prison licence.

Barrister Mr Moore said Dean’s ambition was to become “the main supplier in Class A drugs in the Scarborough area”.

Williams agreed to “wash” drug money given to him by one of the drug overlords whom he refused to name. It was said that just over £4,000 was laundered through Williams’s bank account.

Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said it was “plain that these conspirators were well-organised, well-paid and certainly successful on a substantial scale”, and described the operation as a “significant criminal enterprise” which had caused “misery to (drug) users and the general population of Scarborough”.

“These offences have a significant community impact,” added Mr Stubbs. “A 15-year-old boy (who) was reported missing in Liverpool was recruited to take part in dealing.”

He said “large amounts of cash” had been made by the gang and in particular Thomas Dean, who was directing others in the conspiracy and “issuing threats”.

Harwood was one of Dean’s trusted middle-men, a facilitator and courier as well as recruiter of young, vulnerable people from Liverpool who they used to transport the drugs from Liverpool to Scarborough. The investigation showed he had spent a considerable time in Scarborough bringing drugs into the town and taking the proceeds back to Liverpool, particularly after the police disrupted local street dealers.

O’Donoghue was a drug user himself and would perform various roles for Dean and take his payment in drugs. Among his services included providing transport for Dean. As well as allowing him to use his own car, a vehicle bought by Dean was insured in O’Donoghue’s name who then took the blame for a speeding offence and the possession of a samurai sword found in the vehicle. He was also seen topping up the main phone used by Dean to advertise his drugs.

Matthew Williams allowed his bank account to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of the drug sales.

Throughout the four-month period of the conspiracy, a number of local people were “cuckooed” by the gang where their homes were taken over by dealers, under threats of violence, to provide bases for the gang to store and sell their drugs.