Detective urges public to help in fight against big city drugs gangs

Date: Friday 21st July 2017

A TOP detective involved in catching a Liverpool drugs gang with links to Penrith has urged local people not to fall victim to big city criminals.

Acting Chief Inspector Patrick McDonnell, of Cumbria police, said dealers in places like Merseyside and Manchester are trying to get a foothold in market towns like Penrith and smaller cities such as Carlisle.

“The dealers stay in their urban area taking little or no risk by not exposing themselves to the local police,” he said.

Chief Insp. McDonnell McDonnell was speaking as 10 members members of an organised crime group were jailed for a total of 46 years at Carlisle Crown Court on Tuesday.

The gang, headed by Liverpudlian Ryan Doforo, aged 32, supplied quantities of heroin and crack cocaine to users in Carlisle and Penrith, he said.

Chief Insp. McDonnell said a tactic of the gang was to recruit local people as dealers or users — often the young, those with drug habits or addictions, or in some cases mental health problems.

The case, nicknamed Operation Mantis, had several links to Penrith. A number used by the gang to alert users to fresh supplies in the county was discovered in January, 2015, on the phones of three local heroin users involved in the horrific robbery at Funk-e O’s in Castlegate, Penrith.

That robbery, which a judge said had “shocked Cumbria,” saw a female shop assistant pistol-whipped and her three-year-old son threatened. The gang involved got away with £50.

The robbery was organised to pay off a drug debt to Doforo’s gang, said Chief Insp. McDonnell. “There can be no better example of the damage caused by drugs to a small community like Penrith,” he added.

During Operation Mantis, a Penrith suspect was charged with transporting people to and from Liverpool into Cumbria. The same person had also been given the job of obtaining credit for a mobile phone that the gang used to alert local users to the arrival of Class A drugs. However, he did not stand trial due to ill health.

“The phone numbers used by the gang were well-known among the drug addict community in North Cumbria. It was passed on by word of mouth or text. Once the numbers of the local drug users had been identified by the gang, they would then send out a group message informing their customer base they were open for business,” said Chief Insp. McDonnell

The coded message would read: “On with the best of both” — a disguise for “good quality heroin and crack cocaine for sale”. The drugs, in pre-prepared deals as small as 0.2 grams of rock cocaine, and 0.2 grams of powdered heroin, would then be sold for sums as expensive as £20. Doforo and a sidekick would remain in Liverpool controlling the phone number and co-ordinate local dealers to link up with drug users in Penrith or Carlisle.

This week’s case heard that two dealers from Liverpool regularly based themselves in Carlisle for the sole purpose of delivering drugs to local users.

A dealer would travel to Penrith with supplies, or Penrith drug users would go to Carlisle to collect drugs. Chief Insp. McDonnell urged local people to help police in Penrith and to steer clear of the scourge of hard drugs.

He said vulnerable people often ended up being lured into becoming dealers when they became addicted or owed the dealers money. Some only got into heroin after trying “gateway drugs” like cannabis, diazepam or amphetamine. “All the risks end up being taken by people in the local area that the gangs get to work for them,” he said.

“Heroin and cocaine are highly addictive. Once people have used the drug on a few occasions they can become heavily dependent. It is crucial that people assist the police in contacting us when they believe that this type of drug activity is occurring. Invaluable information can come from the local community to help us target and tackle these dealers.

“Help us protect our area from these gangs who seek to exploit vulnerable people here.”

Tuesday’s sentencing was the second such big drug bust in Cumbria with a separate gang also jailed this week.

Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555111.