THEY flooded the streets of Portsmouth with cocaine, crack and heroin.
But now five men are starting long prison terms of a combined total of nearly 30 years after being caught selling drugs brought down from Manchester in the city between April and September last year.
Matthew Jewell, prosecuting, said based on anaylsis of mobile phones a police drug expert put the conspiracy as dealing up to 4.5kg of the class A drugs, worth around £450,000.
The gang regularly swapped pay as you go phones in a bid to evade detection but were caught by detectives in Hampshire police.
Dad-of-one Luke Leighton ran street dealers in Portsmouth, organising runners to deal drugs out in the city - all just weeks after coming out of prison.
Leighton controlled two phones that sent out hundreds out text messages to addicts advertising the drugs on sale.
This was a conspiracy that operated for a period of approximately five months in which very large quantities of drugs, looking at the overall period, were brought down from the Manchester area to Portsmouth and then distributed by these conspirators to drug users in the Portsmouth areaJudge Roger Hetherington
In all 1,023 ‘marketing messages’ were sent out to addicts, with one phone receiving 103 texts and 365 calls a day on average from June to September.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard how John Burns operated the supply from unknown people above him, bringing the drugs into the gang.
They along with three other men, Corey Vaughan, James Hull and Chae Neville, were jailed for their roles in the gang.
A sixth man, Richard Pascoe, will be sentenced on Monday.
Burns, Leighton, Pascoe, Neville and Hull were arrested on September 22 with cash and digital scales variously found contaminated with drugs.
Vaughan was arrested on October 14, denied to police who he was but was identified by fingerprints.
All men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs between April and September last year.
Addressing the gang, judge Roger Hetherington said: ‘This was a conspiracy that operated for a period of approximately five months in which very large quantities of drugs, looking at the overall period, were brought down from the Manchester area to Portsmouth and then distributed by these conspirators to drug users in the Portsmouth area.
‘The fact that you have pleaded guilty to conspiracy in itself shows that you have accepted either organising or attaching yourself to a significant operation which involved probably over a kilogram of class A drugs in the course of that time being supplied with very many transactions and a substantial quantity of money being paid for those drugs.’
The sentences were:
Luke Leighton, 25, of Henderson Road, Southsea, jailed for nine years.
John Burns, 27, Broadway, in Manchester, was jailed for eight years.
Chae Neville, 19, of Sultan Road, Buckland, was jailed for three years and two months.
James Hull, 24, of Dresden Street, Manchester, jailed for four years and six months.
Corey Vaughan, 21, of no fixed address, jailed for five years and five months.
The judge said Leighton and Burns played a leading role - they only received different sentences as Leighton pleaded guilty later than Burns.
Matthew Jewell, prosecuting, ‘These defendants all fall to be sentenced for conspiracy to supply heroin, crack and cocaine in the Portsmouth.
‘The source of the drugs is the Manchester area.
‘It would seem, although there’s no direct evidence of this, drugs were transported in relatively small quantities, packaged in all probability in wraps or Kinder Egg and concealed internally in the way the court is familiar with.
‘That’s a process which obviously limits the quantity of drugs.
‘But it equally means that frequent trips are required between Portsmouth and Manchester in order to restock the organisation for supply in Portsmouth.
‘Vehicles linked to the defendants travel between Hampshire and Manchester, they’re short visits to Manchester, returning to Portsmouth.
‘It’s the prosecution case that it’s John Burns who is controlling the supply of drugs into the organisation.
‘He’s certainly involved in the supply of drugs with Luke Leighton, originally from Manchester but during this period living and operating in Portsmouth, managing the distribution of drugs in the Portsmouth area.
‘The evidence shows a total, although I accept it’s not exact, of 42 round trips over the conspiracy period between Portsmouth and Manchester.
‘Mr Leighton in Portsmouth had, as is confirmed on the evidence, others in the Portsmouth area responsible for actually going out on the street and supplying the drugs.
‘Mr Leighton controlled the deal lines in this case.
‘There would be frequent contact with local drug users and then in particular Corey Vaughan and Chae Neville would be involved in street supply of those drugs.
‘Mr Leighton, originally from the Manchester area, was convicted in 2013.. for drug supply also involving supply from Manchester into Portsmouth of heroin.
‘He received 54 months for that.
‘Mr Leighton was released from prison in April last year and went to live at an address in Southsea with his partner.
‘He had access to a Renault Clio and a Volkswagen van registered to Burns but insured for his use.
‘He made trips to Manchester in those couriering with him the deal line phone.
‘He was arrested during the course of this conspiracy initially in Manchester in the company of Mr Burns in Manchester in possession of significant quantities of cash, several hundreds of pounds and with a known drug user.
‘Mr Burns, although not jointly indicted with Mr Leighton in the past, is a known associate of Mr Leighton and was himself convicted in 2011 for supplying heroin into the Portsmouth area and received a sentence of 75 months.
‘He too was released in early 2015 and lived in Manchester.
‘It’s significant, the prosecution say, that within two days of Mr Leighton being released Mr Burns came to the Portsmouth area.
‘At the end of these investigation when the arrest phase took place he was found with a phone in his possession of cash, scales contaminated with heroin and two expensive cars and other suggestions of spending.
‘Mr Burns was at pains, after being previously caught dealing drugs in the street in Portsmouth, to remain at arms length in Manchester.
‘Corey Vaughan, known as CJ, had been seen on a number of occasions meeting drug users in Portsmouth. There may be no direct evidence of transactions taking place but it’s the prosecution case that he was dealing for the conspiracy.
‘He was stopped on May 21 in 2015 and found in possession of £240 in cash and two mobile phones.’
Mr Jewell added an address was searched on July 8 and £400 in cash was found, and on July 18 a local resident videoed Vaughan dealing drugs on the street and passed it to police.
On July 16 he was seen dealing in the street and on July 22 he was seen in Portsmouth with Neville constantly on his phone.
Mr Jewell added: ‘James Hull, from the Manchester area... effectively took over responsibility for couriering drugs [from Richard Pascoe] from Manchester to Portsmouth.
‘He made a total of either 20 or 21 trips.
‘Just as an observation of the cost, he seemed to have made the journey at least 16 times by train – the cost alone would have been £1,700.
‘He is in frequent contact with, in particular, Mr Leighton, when making journeys to Portsmouth and in frequent contact with John Burns when in Manchester.
‘Richard Pascoe was in regular contact with the two deal lines in this case and numerous occasions Luke Leighton, John Burns and Corey Vaughan and indeed Chae Neville.
‘Mr Pascoe made six tripes to Manchester, four with and two without Mr Leighton while in phone contact with John Burns.
‘Immediately after those trips the active deal line phone would send out a marketing text indicating drugs were available in Portsmouth for supply and activity took place.
‘Chae Neville, we suggest, was a runner for the organisation.
‘He was arrested initially on May 11 in Portsmouth with Corey Vaughan and others. He ran away from the vehicle in which they were travelling.
‘A mobile phone cash and drugs were found discarded on the floor.’
Richard Pascoe, 50, of Grafton Street, Buckland, is due to be sentenced on Monday.
Nicholas Barraclough for Burns, said: ‘He got a job but was drawn back into his old ways.’
He added: ‘This conspiracy seems to have been ongoing when he joined it.’
Richard Dawson, for Leighton, said his client owed a debt to dealers after previously being jailed and pressure was put on him to join again.
Mr Dawson said he was remorseful, adding: ‘He began his role as holder of the phone not as starting something from scratch but something that must have been a pre-existing supply chain.
Robert Bryan, for Neville, said he was vulnerable and had been attacked on several occasions, including being stabbed.
Robin Leach for Vaughan, said he was involved through naivety and or exploitation.
He added Vaughan was involved for around two and a half months.
Mark Ford, for Hull, said he was ‘acting under the direction of others’.