Eight individuals, part of a Brighton-based drugs gang, have been found guilty of drug-related offences and the manipulation of minors to conduct their illicit activities, following a landmark investigation.
These eight admissions of guilt come in the wake of a two-year probe by the Community Investigation Team (CIT) into the HECTOR county drug distribution network, which in 2020 was responsible for bring crack cocaine and heroin into Brighton from Essex.
In addition to the drug-related charges, all eight accused were also found guilty of offences relating to modern slavery perpetrated against four children. This is an exceptionally uncommon outcome for a case of this nature.
This was the second manifestation of the HECTOR operation, which was initially disassembled following a two-year crackdown by Sussex Police that led to ten men being incarcerated for a cumulative sentence exceeding 64 years.
Authorities were alerted to the resurgence of the HECTOR operation under new leadership towards the end of 2020. An investigation identified five main members based in Essex – Thomas Warwick, Gary Goodwin, Jayden Henry-Flavien, Liam Harvey, and Harley Roberts.
A further three individuals were implicated in the trafficking of humans and drugs and providing support to the criminal plot – Dean Warrington, Cris Donovan, and Nicola McKenzie, who permitted the group to use her Brighton residence as a hub for their activities.
The investigation also unearthed that four children were conscripted to distribute drugs in Brighton and Hove, ferried to the city by Warrington and Donovan, and in some instances allowed to lodge with McKenzie.
This modus operandi is characteristic of ‘county lines’ drug trafficking, where gangs from larger cities peddle drugs in smaller, more rural areas, frequently exploiting minors and other vulnerable persons in the process.
Upon being located, the four children were treated as victims during the investigation, protected, and given assistance by Sussex Police and local partners in an attempt to dissuade them from further involvement in criminal activities.
In the three months that the group operated the HECTOR network, they supplied roughly 8,000 packets of Class A narcotics in Brighton and Hove, with a street value of approximately £80,000.
All eight defendants were apprehended in various operations from October 2020 to the summer of 2021.
Subsequent charges for each included conspiracy to commit a modern slavery offence in relation to the exploitation of the children, as well as conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and heroin.
At Hove Crown Court on Tuesday (16 May), Donovan, Roberts, and Harvey entered guilty pleas for all counts. The remaining five defendants had previously pleaded guilty at earlier hearings.
Detective Inspector Dee Wells, of Brighton and Hove’s Community Investigation Team, commented: “These eight defendants wrongly assumed they could assume control of the HECTOR drug line from its former custodians and replicate a similar path of devastation in our communities.
“Just like their predecessors, they have now faced justice.
“Not only have we managed to protect the public from danger, but four vulnerable children were safeguarded and provided with