Lewisham gang member convicted of ‘human trafficking’ in landmark county lines modern slavery case

Katherine Johnston (17 April, 2019) Crime In the Dock

The Crown Prosecution Service says this case is one of very few where drug dealers have been successfully prosecuted for arranging the travel and exploitation of their teenage couriers, under the Modern Slavery Act

29112Alford Karemera and Wabelua

A  gang master from Lewisham has been convicted for human trafficking after grooming and abusing vulnerable youngsters from south London for a county lines operation between the capital and Portsmouth.

The Met has described today’s conviction  at Inner London Crown Court as a landmark in the fight against modern slavery.

First tried at Woolwich Crown Court in January 2018, on appeal the case went to a new trial at Inner London Crown Court.

Twenty-five-year-old Michael Karemera, from Lewisham (b. 27.10.93) and 25-year-old Dean Alford, from Canterbury (b. 21.01.94)  were both charged with three counts of trafficking.

Karemera pleased guilty part-way through his trial under cross examination, while Alford pleaded guilty at the close of the prosecution’s case.

Also tried was Glodi Wabelua, 25, from Tottenham, who was found guilty of one count of trafficking.

They will be sentenced on Tuesday, May 14 at the same court.

The gang were first investigated by police in 2014, when officers in Hampshire arrested five teenagers from south London selling drugs. They were aged between fourteen and sixteen.

A sixth victim, aged nineteen, was supported to give evidence by an outreach worker.

From behind a screen, to protect his identity, he told the court that when he tried to leave the gang, he was stripped naked by Karemera’s associates and threatened with a gun to his head.

The court heard how all victims were recruited, groomed and trafficked by the organised crime group and forced to travel to Portsmouth as part of the drug selling operation involving three ‘lines’ run by each gang leader.

Alford ran the ‘Duffy’ line, Karemera ran the ‘Mitch’ line, and Webelua ran the ‘Fly’ line. Drugs sold include crack cocaine and heroin.

Jurors heard how they were controlled by the gang, kept in drug users’ homes, and given instructions via mobile phone.

The three defendants would text their customers when drugs were in supply, and then receive callbacks as the users began to place their orders – often up to 300 incoming calls a day.

Their victims would then be sent out to sell the illegal narcotics on the streets of Portsmouth, often at night, before depositing the cash – sometimes as much as £2,000 within 24-hours.

Detectives snared Alford, Karemera and Wabelua with DNA evidence and mobile phone data. But only one victim felt able to give evidence.

Karemera was arrested on September 10, 2014, in Winterwell Road, Brixton and an address at Blondin Way in Rotherhithe was searched the following day.  He was charged in October 2016.

Alford was arrested in 2014 charged in 2016, as was Wabelua.

The trio were first tried for drug offences in February 2016 at Woolwich Crown Court, where Karemera was told he will serve ten years behind bars, Alford was handed an eleven year sentence, to run consecutively with three years for perverting the course of justice, and Wabelua was jailed for six years and eight months.

They will all now be sentenced for their human trafficking crimes.

Senior Investigating Officer, Acting Detective Inspector Simon French, said: “The complex nature of this investigation and the determination of our officers to pursue human trafficking charges demonstrates how seriously we take the issue of county lines.

“This case was previously tried at Woolwich Crown Court in January 2018.

“The jury were discharged following the close of the prosecution case.

“This led to a successful ruling through the Court of Appeal in June 2018 and a new trial set at Inner London Crown Court.

“This is a successful test case and we are sending a clear message to drug dealers who engage in this activity.

“Following the Court of Appeal ruling we have clearer guidance on how this legislation should be interpreted and makes it clear that any person involved in the chain of trafficking the victim for drug supply can be prosecuted.”

The Crown Prosecution Service says this case is one of very few where drug dealers have been successfully prosecuted for arranging the travel and exploitation of their teenage couriers, using  Section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act, which came into force in 2015.

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