Ajay Stephens, 21, of Parry Road, Croydon, was sentenced to a total of eight years and seven months’ imprisonment at Inner London Crown on Thursday, 11 November.
He was found guilty following a trial in May of two counts of arranging and facilitating the movement of people. He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in September 2020 to two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. He also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and possession of a Class B drug (cannabis) with intent to supply last month in relation to a separate matter, for which he was sentenced at the same time.
The court heard that Stephens was the holder of the ‘P’ line – which was a county line running drugs from London to Hastings. Stephens got unsuspecting women to book and pay for accommodation in Hastings where he made two vulnerable teenage boys, aged 15 and 17, travel to from their care home in Manchester to deal his crack cocaine and heroin.
County lines is the name given to drug dealing where criminals use phone lines to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas across the whole country.
The gangs exploit vulnerable people, including children and those with mental health or addiction issues, by recruiting them to distribute the drugs.
The investigation began on 9 March 2020 when detectives from the Met received intelligence from Sussex Police about the ‘P’ line.
Fast-time enquiries, including mobile phone and ANPR analysis, identified Stephens as the line-holder and also revealed that he was exploiting two children by getting them to travel from Manchester to London to collect the drugs before travelling to Hastings where they would stay to deal to Stephens’ customers.
Detectives were determined to work quickly to safeguard the children and apprehend Stephens and they refused to let the pandemic or the first lockdown get in their way. Their hard work paid off and Stephens was arrested on 30 March 2020.
After the children were safeguarded, which was the officers’ priority, more slow time enquiries continued to build evidence against Stephens. Detectives were able to prove that Stephens had been dealing Class A drugs in Hastings since April 2019, which he admitted to.
The court heard that approximately 1.45kg of drugs were sold through the ‘P line’ between 11 November 2019 and 30 March 2020, generating a significant amount of money for Stephens.
Detectives also found that when Stephens was out of the country, his step-brother Amun’Ra Teko, 19 , of Loughborough Estate, Lambeth, and his half-brother Shaquille Boreland, 26 , of no fixed address, ran the line in his absence.
Stephens, Teko and Boreland were subsequently charged and all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, with Teko and Boreland awaiting sentencing.
While this investigation was ongoing, a new county line called the ‘JB’ line started in May 2020 and supplied drugs between London and Kent.
On 1 May 2020, prior to the line starting, officers stopped a BMW in Old Kent Road which was being driven by Boreland. Another half-brother of Stephens, Tai Diedrick, 23 (28.06.98), of Dunheved Road West, Croydon, was a passenger in the vehicle. Both men were searched and Diedrick was in possession of a burner phone that would later be linked to the ‘JB line’.
A police dog searched the vehicle and found MDMA and cocaine hydrochloride hidden in an air vent. Both men were arrested and subsequently released under investigation.
Meanwhile, detectives who were investigating the ‘P line’ connected the dots and uncovered that Teko was also involved in the ‘JB line’, which officers found was being run by Diedrick. The officers took lead of the complex investigation, which resulted in six people linked to the line being convicted.
Diedrick, along with his associates Trey Foster, 27, of Myatts Field South, Lambeth, and Romario Genus, 19 (10.10.02), of Paxton Grove, Croydon, pleaded guilty at separate hearings to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Diedrick also pleaded guilty to possession of criminal property.
Another associate, Jamie Danquah, 23 , of Strathmore Road, Croydon pleaded guilty in May 2021 to possession of criminal property and possession with intent to supply Class B.
Boreland and Teko denied involvement but were found guilty by a jury in October, with Boreland being convicted of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs and Teko being convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
All six await sentencing.
Detective Sergeant Ray Sekalongo, who was the investigating officer for the ‘P’ and ‘JB’ line cases, said: “Our investigation started with Stephens, but long hours carrying out numerous enquiries and some good detective work led to seven people being convicted and two county lines being closed.
“However, most importantly our investigation led to two young, vulnerable boys being freed from Stephens’ grasp and safeguarded. People like Stephens do not care about the children or vulnerable people they exploit for their own financial gain. They are used as human shields to protect people like Stephens. Well, people like Stephens can no longer hide behind vulnerable adults and children because we are able to pursue those involved with exploiting people for drug supply, irrespective of whether a victim assists the police or not.
“Drugs cause misery for communities and devastate lives, which is why the Met will continue to robustly target line-holders such as Stephens and Diedrick. However, we cannot tackle the problem alone, which is why I would urge you share any information you have regarding drug dealing, exploitation, or violent crime in your area. We all have a responsibility to make London a safe place for everyone.
“We believe this is only the second time a jury has convicted someone of modern slavery offences in relation to county lines under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I would like to use this opportunity to remind people of the signs to look out for that might indicate a child is involved in county lines, including them repeatedly going missing, suddenly having lots of money or new items such as fancy trainers, having two phones and being secretive about who they speak to.”