How crack and heroin flooded the streets of Great Yarmouth
PUBLISHED: 09:08 13 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:26 15 April 2019
Every couple of days a drugs consignment arrived by taxi at a Great Yarmouth council flat to supply the town with crack and heroin.
It had come up the A11 from Hackney in East London, and the drugs soon passed through a network of 'enforcers' and 'minions' into the hands of local addicts.
Great Yarmouth was “flooded” with crack and heroin by the summer of 2017 by the Deano line - one of many county lines seeking to exploit vulnerable drug users in the seaside town.
On Friday at Norwich Crown Court, members of the gang were sentenced to a total of 57-and-a-half-years in prison after police snared them in an undercover operation called Kimble.
Police believe the gang had been active in the town since 2013, and had channelled more than a kilo of heroin and crack into Yarmouth in a year.
William Donkoh was pulling the strings behind the scenes, directing the sale of drugs on a “commercial scale”.
He controlled a single phone line with up to 116 texts and 56 calls a day, directing a pair of managers sent to live a “sorry existence” in Yarmouth.
Glonar Thomas and Sebastian Arenas-Valencia lived within a few hundred yards of Donkoh in Hackney.
Both were teenagers at the time. One was an aspiring university business studies student, the other a former corporal in the Air Training Corps.
By the summer of 2017 they had been ordered to Norfolk, instructed to move into the homes of local addicts and buy their co-operation by offering drugs in exchange for 'renting' their homes.
The gang chose to target vulnerable women, all with long-standing drug addictions.
The two teenage “enforcers” took stock of their homes, arming them with knives, stashing them with drugs and using them as a base to deal from.
The five women standing alongside them in the dock were easy targets. Their lives had already been blighted by heroin and crack, and they offered their services as “runners”.
“Here there was an opportunity to obtain drugs for free,” said counsel Darren Snow. “For a long-term addict that is an offer too good to refuse.”
In May 2017, undercover officers began surveillance of hand-to-hand exchanges by some of the Deano line runners.
They would be selling more than 30 wraps a day at times.
An investigation over the next 13 months - codenamed Operation Kimble - led officers to the source of the conspiracy in Hackney.
A “strike date” was set for October 25, 2017, when raids and arrests were made in Yarmouth.
But Donkoh was not arrested until June 26 last year, as the Metropolitan Police picked him up outside his home at Brooksby's Walk.
Judge Andrew Shaw, jailing the gang, said: “It is abundantly clear the Deano group flooded the streets of Great Yarmouth with heroin and crack cocaine. There is no doubt at least one kilogram was sold on these Norfolk streets.”
He said: “Heroin and crack cocaine are pernicious and their primary evil is to damage the health of those who take them.
“To see someone who is addicted to heroin and crack cocaine is to see a shadow of their former selves: lifeless eyes, dank, greasy hair and hollow skin are all common features of drug addicts.
“I do not understand how a human being could even think about making money by selling these poisons to another human being.
“Each of you should ask yourself how you became so selfish and greedy and how your moral compasses went so badly awry when you made the decision to become involved in this conspiracy.”
Donkoh, 31, directed the operation from the safety of Hackney.
Local addicts in Great Yarmouth would be given a phone number to connect with him, and he would use these mailing lists to send out bulk advertising texts.
Donkoh would send bulk texts to in excess of 200 mobile phone numbers in Yarmouth.
When orders were placed, one of the runners would be dispatched.
More than 45,000 messages were sent from Donkoh's phone during the conspiracy. In October 2017, at the height of the operation, it sent 3,695 texts and 1,747 calls.
It was in contact with more than 1,000 separate phone numbers.
When his phone needed topping up, Donkoh got one of the runners to buy credit from shops in Great Yarmouth, and send him the top-up code.
But by monitoring the phone, police were able to tie him to the operation.
It was rare for Donkoh to visit Great Yarmouth, but on February 8 last year a silver Toyota Prius taxi was traced via ANPR cameras travelling along the A11 and around Norwich, before heading eastbound on the A47.
The Deano line phone number was pinging on phone masts along the route at the same time.
Four days later, surveillance teams saw Donkoh getting into the same Prius outside his Hackney home.
He was also captured on CCTV early in the investigation buying phone credit in London. Seconds later bulk text messages advertising drugs were being sent to Yarmouth drug addicts.
Local officers said since Donkoh's arrest there had been no mention of the Deano line in Great Yarmouth.
But Philip Misner, for Donkoh, said you “could not be sure” he was running the operation.
From August to November, 2017, payslips produced by Donkoh suggest he was working 51 hours a week as a kitchen porter, for minimum wage of £7.83 an hour.
“His lifestyle is wildly inconsistent with him running this entire operation,” said Mr Misner.
“He was living at home with his mother, on minimum wage, working long hours and topping up the phone - a menial role.
“His actions are unobserved throughout the period, and suspicion is not good enough.”
Donkoh, of Brooksby's Walk, was jailed for 12 years.
Judge Shaw told him: “You were someone who was moved through the ranks of a London based organised criminal group to take a leading role in the Deano conspiracy.
“You were directing and organising the sale of heroin and cocaine on a commercial scale.”
Thomas and Valencia were neighbours of Donkoh in Hackney.
They lived in a tight-knit triangle around Homerton train station.
Thomas was just 17-years-old by the time he was ordered to Great Yarmouth. Valencia was 19.
They set up two flats at Wellesley Road and York Road to stash the drugs.
The younger of the two set up shop at Wellesley Road, in a flat rented in the name of one of his runners - Tatjana Reinis.
The pair, “associates of Donkoh”, moved into properties of drug addicts as cuckoos, paying them 'rent' in drugs.
They both had some promise before they were recruited to work for the Deano line.
Thomas, one of eight siblings, had a conditional offer to study at the University of Leicester. He had never been in trouble before.
But the family was living in “financial strain”, according to his counsel, Ahmed Muen.
“He clearly became involved in the wrong crowds and was easily influenced,” said Mr Muen. “He was promised a lot of money in payment but that never came and in fact they lived off very little.”
The runners described Arenas-Valencia as the “top man” in Yarmouth, and Thomas as the “new guy”.
Despite his status, Arenas-Valencia insisted the only highlight of living in Yarmouth was occasionally going to Greggs for breakfast.
In the summer of 2017, after a family breakdown, the teenager had been “abandoned by his family” and became “easy prey” for drug gangs, Mr Snow said on his behalf.
“His presence in Great Yarmouth was a sorry existence,” he said. “One could perhaps see how a young man, abandoned by his family, grows up in the inner city environment where gangs are prevalent and becomes easy prey, sent up to Yarmouth to run and manage the drugs operation.”
Thomas, of Berger Road, was jailed for seven years 11 months and Valencia, of Wick Road, for 10 years, both in a young offenders' institution.
Judge Shaw told Valencia: “I am certain you relished your role as a big London fish in the small pond of Great Yarmouth.”
To Thomas, he said it was a “genuine tragedy”.
“You were someone with a bright future ahead of you before you.”
All women in their 30s with lives “blighted” by drugs, the Deano line drug runners were recruited using various methods.
They were split into two groups.
Sarah Williams and Lisa Vincent began dealing from Vincent's home at Southtown Road, then from Orford Close, Debbie Thain's council flat.
Jodie Burt joined them for one day in July.
All three women are heavily convicted for shoplifting to fund their ongoing drug habits, and the Deano line offered them another way to earn their fix.
Williams and Vincent were “dealing on a daily basis and on multiple occasions each day”, said prosecutor Duncan O'Donnell.
One of them had worked for Deano before. In March 2016 Williams was convicted of conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and jailed for 30 months.
She told the undercover officers making test purchases at the time she was selling for Deano.
Now 39, Williams's years of drug abuse have “taken a heavy toll on her,” Andrew Oliver said on her behalf.
She appeared at court aided with a walking stick due to a blood clot in her leg.
“She is a vulnerable, sightly built woman, badly addicted to the drugs she was asked to supply,” said Mr Oliver. “She had no money or assets, and she became homeless.
“Prostitution, stealing and dealing were the three options open to her, and she has chosen the one which has got her in very serious trouble.”
Vincent, now 39, was the only suspect to give police details of the operation in interview, and admitted stealing one of the fresh drug packages from London.
It contained more than 70 wraps of heroin and 70 wraps of crack.
“[Vincent] said parcels were delivered by London taxi every couple of days and were stashed at Orford Place,” said Mr O'Donnell.
“She said she started running because Seb had stabbed a girl and she felt threatened by him.
“She wasn't so terrified as to stop her stealing one of the parcels.”
Vincent has been addicted to heroin since she was 15 years old.
It was triggered by the death of her mother, who was her “last support”,” Michael Clare told the court.
“She is a hopelessly addicted footsoldier,” Mr Clare said. “She has been in utterly pitiful, desperate straits.
“She has three children who write her letters but she is not allowed access to them.
“She was convicted for begging not long before all this, and she shows the effects of 25 years of heroin addiction.”
Jodie Burt's life to date had been also “dominated” by drug addiction and a “chaotic lifestyle”, with a series of bad relationships in her wake.
She was caught dealing for Deano on just one day in July.
She shares custody of her 13-year-old daughter, who is partially deaf and suffers a congenital heart defect.
Living back with her mother at Coronation Terrace, the family's financial situation was in “dire straits”, Mr Snow said on her behalf.
Burt, 34, and her mother were caught at a supermarket stealing bottles of Jack Daniels and perfume gift sets in October last year.
“This was not shoplifting to fund drug addiction,” said Mr Snow. “At that time the family were in dire straits and the mother's plan was to shoplift and sell what they could to raise money to pay for electricity for the home.”
Debbie Thain, on the other hand, was “different from the others,” her counsel Danielle O'Donovan told the court.
Her council flat of nine years had been taken over by dealers and there was no evidence of street dealing on her part.
She was most closely linked with Thomas, and offered to spread the word about their product.
On October 23 she texts Thomas saying: 'Are you sure you do not want to drop me a little tester of each one? Then I can spread the word how pucker your stuff is. Makes good business sense hun'.
Ms O'Donovan said Thain's drug use had left her “extremely vulnerable and exploited”.
She had never been before the courts before, and has now “lost her good character”.
The 35-year-old said she had now had “a gutful” of the drugs lifestyle, and was looking for an escape.
“She had been able to keep her addiction to the level she could fund through employment or the benefit system,” said Ms O'Donovan.
“She says it is like working a full time job to score enough money and drugs to keep her habit.
“She doesn't need to let these people into her home any more and she can lead an ordinary life - the life she had before.
“She was unable to make any choices or decisions because they were thrust upon her by her addiction.”
During the conspiracy period, Williams was in contact with Deano 1,912 times, Thain 813 times, and Burt 452 times.
The second group of runners involved Tatjana Reinis and Irina Rasimovic, who dealt out of Priory Plain and Britannia Road.
Reinis, who has just turned 40, will be deported back to her native Lithuania due to her conviction.
She had fled a violent relationship in 2011 and was a victim of people trafficking when she arrived in the UK.
“She has been very poorly treated by people with whom she associated,” Ian James said on her behalf.
“In Lithuania she acquired an addiction to Class A drugs and that has stayed with her. The consequence of this conviction is she will be deported, and go back to the place she fled from all those years ago.”
Reinis managed to bring a fellow Lithuanian into the operation - 32-year-old Rasimovic.
Rasimovic gave evidence she had been dealing around 60 wraps a day on behalf of the Deano ring.
Judge Shaw said of the group: “I have no doubt in my mind once the advantages of being involved in this operation became clear to them they were all willing participants.”
Williams was jailed for four years nine months, Thain for 40 months, Burt for 30 months, Vincent for four years, Reinis for seven years and Rasimovic for six years.
Surveillance of the gang began in earnest in the summer of 2017.
Police said there had been “an awareness” of the Deano line through scraps of information from other investigations.
And by June officers from the Tactical Unit deployed a first phase of the operation, recording hand to hand exchanges and surveillance.
It didn't last long, as the murder of dog walker Peter Wrighton in East Harling in August of that year disrupted the operation. Resources were needed elsewhere.
By September, the team were back watching the Deano line.
DC Carl Carter, of the tactical unit, said four properties in the Yarmouth boroughs were used as a “base of operations” by the gang.
“This is a typical county line set-up,” he said. “You have your user runners at the bottom end of the heirarchy, you have local managers, and the level above them are the phone holders themselves.”
Officers came to believe the line was being controlled out of Hackney, and by trawling CCTV footage they were able to identify Donkoh as a target.
“The Deano line phone was basically a mobile office which was typically ringfenced by the M25,” said DC Carter.
By monitoring the top-up credits on the phone, officers clocked Donkoh on CCTV “physically holding the phone”.
“They are creatures of habit, and over a prolonged period of time being surveilled they are going about their daily business,” said DC Carter.
“He is holding a busy drugs line and it needs to be topped up. It is the phone that has value and needs to always be in use, because this is a business.”
DC Carter added county lines is a “monstrous problem”, and some of the underlying causes have to be solved.
“This is a problem of drug addiction and you need to try and tackle that, but there is never an easy answer,” he said.
“We do find cases of vulnerability. The impact it can have on communities can lead to theft and violence. Those are some of the problems we want to try and dismantle.
“Ultimately lines can be rebranded. With regards to the Deano line, I am not aware of Deano being active and marketed as Deano in Norfolk since the arrest of Mr Donkoh.”
On October 25, 2017 Thomas and Valencia were arrested at Greggs on Great Yarmouth Market Place. Rasimovic and Reinis were arrested at Priory Plain, and Thain arrested at Orford Place.
Williams, of York Road, was arrested from custody on December 15, Burt was arrested on February 15 and Vincent was arrested on February 21.
The total drugs seized from Wellesley Road amount to 287 wraps of heroin and 171 wraps of crack cocaine with a street value of £4,580,
Williams, Burt, Thain and Vincent admitted two counts of conspiracy to supply a Class A drug.
Thomas pleaded guilty during cross examination at trial. Reinis, Rasimovic, Valencia and Donkoh were all convicted after trial.
Judge Shaw told them: “You have treated this court and a Norfolk jury with contempt. Your defences flew in the face of the most overwhelming evidence.”