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Undercover policeman posed as Romanian farm worker to take down county lines network

An undercover policeman posing as a Romanian farm worker helped take down a mid-Wales drug network flooding towns with heroin.

Just weeks after police dismantled a Merseyside organised crime gang that had flooded the towns with the class A drug, a new supply network was in place.

With one set of dealers and couriers out of action, the gap in the market was filled by other dealers peddling the drug, a court heard.

But that new network has also been taken down, thanks to a police operation involving covert surveillance, tracking mobile phones, automatic number plate recognition cameras, and an undercover policeman posing as a Romanian casual farm worker and drug user called Vlad.

Dyfed-Powys Police’s Operation Moose has seen 17 people jailed following a series of trials and sentencings at Swansea Crown Court, and the details can now be fully reported for the first time.

The court heard the background to the operation was an earlier operation run in the towns of mid-Wales called Regent – this previous police operation, a complex two-year-long investigation, identified and dismantled a Liverpool-based criminal gang which trafficked more than £1.2million worth of Class A drugs into Newtown, Llandrindod Wells, and neighbouring communities.

It resulted in prison sentences totalling more than 100 years being handed down to dealers in December last year.

Jim Davis, prosecuting, said it was following the arrests of the Operation Regent gang that police became aware that a new source of heroin had now taken the place of the Liverpool connection.

In response, police mounted another operation in an attempt to identify who was involved in the trafficking and distribution of the newly arriving Class A drug.

The operation involved the use of an undercover police officer who assumed the identity of Vlad, a Romanian casual farmworker and drug user, along with covert surveillance of the dealers he met, recording of phone messages, monitoring of car movements, and the tracking of mobile phone locations.

Through such intelligence gathering means, the police built up a picture of the new drug supply network.

At the head of the conspiracy was dad-of-two David Thomas Warner from Merthyr. The 55-year-old secured the supply of ‘substantial amounts’ of heroin from a gang in Newport, which he either trafficked to mid-Wales himself in his old Ford Focus estate or got others to do it in their vehicles.

The court heard that, in total, Warner made some 71 journeys to Newport during the first half of 2019.

The base for operations was a flat in Temple Drive, Llandrindod Wells, which was the home of mother-of-four Joanna Stella Morgan. At this address, the Gwent heroin was prepared and packaged for onward supply via a network of dealers, and it was described in court as a ‘hive of activity’.

The prosecutor told the court the phone number that users were given to place their drug orders with the gang was known as the ‘JoJo Line’.

Assisting Warner and Morgan in the conspiracy were Paul Greenway, Michael Gubbins, and Stuart Reddell. The trio made regular trips to Newport and Merthyr to collect the drugs and, like Morgan, were also involved in its distribution around Llandrindod and neighbouring towns.

Much of the direct selling of the drugs was done by a network of local street dealer-users.

The court heard how in early 2019 police placed an undercover officer with the assumed identity of Vlad Pop – a common Romanian surname – into Llandrindod Wells, and over the following months he became acquainted with dealers operating in the town.

On dozens of occasions he contacted dealers either face to face or by phone, buying wraps of heroin and crack cocaine from addresses around Llandrindod, Welshpool, and Newtown. Other exchanges took place in public such as in supermarket car parks and Newtown train station.

Many of the deals were observed by other covert officers who helped to identify and trace the people involved.

The court heard that on one occasion ‘Vlad’ had dealers Richard Hopkins and Sheena Butterworth in his car when Hopkins injected another user referred to as ‘Joe Newtown’ with heroin.

Joe Newton reacted badly to the injection and Hopkins and Butterworth fled the scene, leaving the undercover cop to call 999 and drag the sick man out of the vehicle and put him in the recovery position. The casualty survived the incident.

Mother-of-six Butterworth is the daughter of Anthony James Butterworth, one of the defendants jailed last Christmas as part of the earlier Operation Regent. Fifty-two-year-old Anthony Butterworth, whose Newtown home was used as a base by the Liverpool gang, subsequently died in prison.

The supply route from Newport to mid-Wales was cut on May 8 last year when police swooped on Warner and Morgan as they drove back to Llandrindod with a consignment of just under £11,000 worth of heroin.

Prosecutor Mr Davis said police believe that was a ‘small fraction’ of the total amount of drugs trafficked into mid-Wales by the conspirators – he said if the amount they were caught with was typical of the size of batches they were shipping, the total amount would be almost two kilos, worth more than £212,000.

Jailing the Operation Moose defendants, judge Geraint Walters said rural towns such as Llandrindod were ‘blighted’ by Class A drugs, with decent and law-abiding residents having to put up with ‘pathetic users roaming the streets’ and dealers operating on street corners.

He said anyone tempted to try such drugs had to understand they led in every case to a life of misery and declining health, and those who involved themselves in peddling the substances would face significant sentences.

The judge also praised police for their work in taking down not one but two networks of dealers.

David Thomas Warner, aged 56, of Yew Tree Close, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, was sentenced to nine years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin.

He has a previous conviction for supplying heroin and possession of heroin and crack with intent to supply from Merthyr Crown Court.

Ian Ibrahim, for Warner, said there was ‘no lavish lifestyle only misery’ as a result of his dealing.

The barrister said the real head of the organisation remained at large in Newport, adding: ‘It never fails to astonish that they [the police] trim the limbs from the tree rather that cutting the trunk.’

Joanna Stella Morgan, aged 36, of Temple Drive, Llandrindodd Wells, was sentenced to seven years after being convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin following trial.

Mr Ibrahim, for Morgan, said the defendant had done ‘a lot to get her life back on track’ while being held in prison pending sentencing, including tackling substance misuse, and doing courses in English, IT, and customer service.

Stuart Reddell, aged 40, of Llys Heulog, Llandrindodd Wells, was sentenced to five years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin.

Paul David Greenway, aged 41, of Gwynfa, Llandrindodd Wells, was sentenced to eight years after being convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin at trial.

He has 32 previous convictions for 55 offences and has a history of possession of cannabis and heroin, along with burglary, drug driving, battery, and a breaching restraining order on his record.

Nick Gedge, for Greenway, said the defendant grew up in Hay-on-Wye and began a building course at college before his life was ‘ravaged by heroin addiction’. The barrister added: ‘He hopes others can forgive him.’

Michael Gubbins, aged 46, of no fixed abode, was sentenced to six years and four months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin.

His barrister, Jonathan Austin, described him as a long-standing heroin user and a ‘hanger-on who was drawn into this’.

Richard Hopkins, aged 41, of Fern Square, Newtown, was sentenced to three years and four months for supplying heroin, and to 14 months for administering a poison – injecting the user known as ‘Joe Newtown’ – the sentences to run consecutively making a total of four-and-a-half years.

Judge Walters told him: ‘People need to be deterred from ever taking a risk with other people’s lives.’

Andrew Taylor, for Hopkins, said the defendant came from ‘a hard working, industrious mid-Wales farming family’.

He said on his father’s death his client had found out he had been excluded from the will and ‘the inheritance which he expected would provide for his future was swept away’. The will was contested but Hopkins lost the legal action.

The barrister added: ‘From a relatively young age the life of Richard Hopkins has been blighted by drugs.’

George Duggan Shearer, aged 52, of Overmore, Llandrindodd Wells, was sentenced to two years and six months after admitting supplying heroin and offering to supply heroin.

Clifford Bishop-Laggett, aged 38, of Temple Drive, Llandrindodd Wells, was sentenced to three years for supplying heroin and cocaine.

Simon Hodgson, aged 33, of Gelli, Newtown, was sentenced to three years and four months for supplying heroin, possession of heroin with intent to supply, and possession of heroin. He was said to have had ‘significant contact’ with other dealers in the network.

Donovan Bond, aged 34, of Oldford Rise, Welshpool, was sentenced to three years and nine months for supplying heroin and crack, and offering to supply heroin and crack.

The court heard he had boasted in text messages to users about the quality of the drugs he was selling, saying they were ‘best in town’ and were ‘flying out like pancakes’.

Jonathan Austin, for Bond, said the defendant had turned to peddling drugs to fund own habit, adding his mother had said the family had moved to Welshpool from the English West Midlands ‘to get away from drugs’.

Antonia Williams, aged 38, of Heol Rhedyn, Newtown, was sentenced to three years and six months after pleading guilty to supplying heroin and crack, and being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack.

Her barrister Lowri Wynn Morgan said the defendant had completed courses in English, maths, beauty and nails while in prison, and was ‘determined to better herself’.

Sheena Butterworth, aged 32, of Fern Square, Newtown, was sentenced to two years and eight months for being concerned in the supply of heroin.

David Scott Pritchard, aged 31, of The Grange, Llandrindodd Wells, was sentenced in August last year to 27 months for supplying heroin.

Mark Anthony Gray, aged 39, of no fixed abode, was sentenced to three years and four months for supply heroin and cocaine.

Barrister Dafydd Roberts, for Gray, said: ‘He said to me in conference he is approaching 40, and looking back at how he has lived his life in a haze of drugs he is appalled.’

Shaun David Johnson, aged 37, of Pendre, New Road, Newtown, was sentenced to two years and eight months for supplying heroin. He has a previous conviction for the same offence from Mold Crown Court in 2012.

Nicholas Price, aged 28, of Glandwr, Newtown, was sentenced to four years for supplying heroin.

Joe Alan Pringle, aged 29, of Finch Court, Llandrindod Wells, was sentenced to three years and four months for supplying heroin, and to eight months consecutive for an unrelated domestic assault and possession of a knife.

Speaking after the sentencing Dyfed-Powys Police detective inspector Gareth Grant said: ‘This result has come from a large-scale operation, including the use of undercover officers, that has seen us take a significant number of people out of a criminal group and helped safeguard vulnerable people in Powys.

‘The sentences we have seen over the last few days show how seriously Dyfed-Powys Police takes drug trafficking.

‘Dyfed-Powys Police will continue to seek justice against those who continue to commit such crimes in our communities.’

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