The leaders of a £1.35million drug gang which targeted seaside towns in Devon and Cornwall have been handed long jail sentences.
The dealers used a camper van to tour the South West as they built up networks in Exmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torbay, Ilfracombe, Penzance, Camborne and Hayle.
They ran 36 drug lines and were so successful that its leaders were spending half their time in Ibiza by the time police closed them down in autumn last year.
The conspiracy was based in Liverpool and recruited couriers who made almost weekly trips to the West Country, setting up the first network in Exmouth in February 2021 before moving on to Torbay and Cornwall.
The dealers stayed at Airbnbs, Leisure parks and holiday camp sites including one on the Lizard where the camper vans was parked while the Cornish operation was being set up.
The 20-month-long plot involved 21 men or women, 38 drugs lines, and 33 courier trips which brought an estimated 8.8 kilograms of heroin and 6.6 kilograms of cocaine with a total value of £1.38 million.
The police seized thousands of pounds worth of drugs and £30,000 cash during five different vehicle stops and were able to trace tens of thousands of pounds passing through the gang leaders’ bank accounts.
They traced more than 20,000 messages sent to users in which drugs were offered.
The leader of the conspiracy was 25-year-old Benjamin Burns who made 15 trips to the South West, including several with his girlfriend, and bought a specially adapted phone which hid its true number and was intended to throw the police off the scent.
The next three most important members were Thomas Keating, his son Christy and cousin Georgie, who all made frequent trips to Devon and Cornwall, including using the camper van.
All of the leaders took regular holidays to Spain and Burns ran the final two drugs lines from Ibiza.
The dealers sometimes flew back to Britain and hired cars at the airport to head straight to the South West.
The operation was broken up by a major police operation which included surveillance in Exmouth, Teignmouth and Camborne and relied heavily on phone evidence which showed not only how the group kept in touch with each other but also showed the movements of the main players.
Burns, of Warwick Drive, Padiham, Burley; Thomas Keating, aged 44, of Woolfall Crescent, Huyton; Christy Keating, aged 24, of Dorothea Crescent, Widnes; and Georgie Keating, aged 24, Cromford Road, Huyton; all admitted conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
Burns was jailed for 10 years, six months, Thomas Keating for 10 years, Christy Keating for 10 years and five months; and Georgie Keating, who only pleaded guilty during his trial, for 11 years and five months by Judge Anna Richardson at Exeter Crown Court.
She told them that the case came into the highest category of drug conspiracy because of the length of time it persisted and the amounts involved.
Miss Chloe Griggs, prosecuting, said the inquiry, codenamed Operation Harbinger Two, was intended to identify those controlling street dealers ‘from the top down’.
The conspiracy began with deliveries to the first Exmouth-based drugs line in February 2021 and run until the final arrest when Thomas Keating was caught bringing heroin worth £68.600 and 13 kilograms of amphetamines worth up to £160,000 into Devon in late September 2022.
Lawyers representing all four men said they were drawn into dealing by their youth, naivety or difficult personal circumstances.