County lines gang sent children as young as 13 to Blackpool to sell crack and heroin

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A county lines drug gang who used children as young as 13 to transport drugs between Greater Manchester and Blackpool has been jailed.

 

Ryan Wall, 24, Claire Daniels, 36, Christopher Thornton, 20, and Leigh Sleddon, 38, were involved in an organised crime group that trafficked class A drugs from Tameside to Blackpool.

Wall, of Lakenheath Road, Liverpool and Thornton, of Barlow Road, Dukinfield, were sentenced to a total of 17 years after admitting arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation under the Modern Slavery Act.

Despite not being charged with the same offence, Minshull Street Crown Court accepted that Daniels – herself a mother – of Fitzroy Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, was aware and complicit in the movement of the teenagers in order for them to deal drugs.

She was given a one year and two month suspended sentence.

Sleddon, of Claremont Court, Blackpool, admitted that the children had stayed at his address in return for him being supplied with drugs.

He was given a two year suspended sentence.

The verdicts conclude an 18 month investigation into the transportation of drugs and children – aged between 13 and 16 – led by detectives in GMP Tameside’s Complex Safeguarding Team.

Christopher Thornton (pictured left) and Ryan Wall (pictured right) (Credit: Greater Manchester Police)

Christopher Thornton (pictured left) and Ryan Wall (pictured right) (Credit: Greater Manchester Police)

Det Con Matthew Elliot, from Operation Fairview, said: “Today, this group has been jailed for their roles in a county line gang – wrecking lives along the way through the dissemination of illegal drugs.

“But what we’ve been able to prove to the court during this investigation, is that Wall and Thornton – in particular – were not just trafficking drugs but also trafficking people.

“They were running their drugs line to Blackpool by deliberately targeting teenage boys, and exploiting them for their own illicit gains.”

He added: “These were boys who were identified by the group as vulnerable, and groomed into travelling between counties – left to fend for themselves and exposed to danger – to do the dirty work on the ground that these offenders didn’t wish to do themselves.

“The act of exploiting children and peddling them for such selfish and criminal ways is an abhorrent crime – but one that is complex and wide-ranging which makes today’s outcome all the more of a success.”

Operation Fairview was launched after a boy was reported missing from the Hyde area.

After working alongside Lancashire Police, officers discovered the boy had been moved to Blackpool and was being used by the gang to supply class A drugs.

Further enquiries confirmed two other teenage boys who had been reported missing from the Ashton area had been in contact with a number associated with Ryan Wall.

Officers ensured the boys were immediately referred to relevant specialist agencies and safeguarded away from further harm.

A strike day was executed at the start of October 2020 where eight people – aged 16 to 67 – were arrested.

Wall, Thornton and Daniels were charged and eventually admitted two counts of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug.

The detectives were also able to prove to the court that Thornton, who was jailed for eight years, was also controlling a ‘drug line’ local to the Tameside area supplying heroin, cocaine and cannabis. He had also entered guilty pleas for these matters.

Wall and Thornton pleaded guilty of four modern slavery offences between them while Sleddon pleaded guilty to participating in the activities of an organised crime group.

Tameside Council Executive Member for Children and Families, Councillor Bill Fairfoull, said: “Superb partnership working has resulted in this first conviction of Modern Day Slavery in Greater Manchester.

“We have removed these drug dealers from our streets and stopped them from exploiting our children.

“Our Children’s Services staff have worked tirelessly with the police to secure this result and I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work.”