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The leader of a county lines gang targeted by police after a spate of drug-related deaths in a Cumbrian town has been jailed for nine years.
South Londoner Michael Emeofa, 22, headed a criminal network which flooded Barrow-in-Furness with heroin and crack cocaine between March 2018 and January 2019.
He was snared after police launched an investigation following 14 drug-related deaths in the town between December 2017 and early 2018.
The deaths raised concerns about the over-supply of Class A drugs in the Cumbrian town, 300 miles away from where Emeofa was based.
Emeofa's involvement with Barrow came through his friendship with two students who ran their own county lines enterprise from a student halls of residence in 2017 and 2018.
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Investigating officers uncovered Daniel Olaloko and Peter Adebayo's drugs network which supplied students living in university halls of residence.
Emeofa, nicknamed Sprayz, initially acted as a runner for the men, who studied at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, but then set up his own mobile phone line to take drugs orders in direct opposition.
When police arrested Olaloko and Adebayo in April 2018 – who were both later jailed for seven years – Emeofa filled the gap and installed dealers in the town from London and also recruited drug addicts in Barrow to work on his behalf.
Among his recruits were two 17-year-old boys and two 15-year-old boys, one of whom had been reported missing from local authority accommodation in London.
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He used addresses in London and Coventry as bases to package and prepare significant quantities of drugs for onward supply, Preston Crown Court heard.
Prosecutor Richard Archer said that undercover officers followed the activities of those involved in "peddling misery" on the streets of the town by posing as buyers.
Emeofa, of Benjamin Court, Bromley Road, London, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
David Bentley, defending, said Emeofa's mother believed her son would not be in the dock but for the death of his father six years ago and the loss of his "positive influence".
Emeofa, who grew up in Deptford, south London, achieved impressive grades at a private boarding school in Nigeria and aspired to seek a university education in law and business, the court heard.
There were 14 drug-related deaths in the town
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Mr Bentley said: "He is still a very young man who can change the course of his life."
Sentencing, Judge Graham Knowles QC told Emeofa: "You say in your own letter (to the judge) that you made stupid decisions. They were motivated, I think, in large part by wanting money.
"It is easy money if you run county lines operations because it is others who pay the price.
"The man running the line only pays the price if he is caught and that is why the sentence is so severe."
He said sending two vulnerable schoolboys to Barrow to deal drugs was "wicked".
Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden, of Cumbria Police, said: "While the deaths were not directly attributable to class A drugs supply around county lines it did demonstrate that there were more Class A drugs available in Barrow and it was that combination of more Class A drugs, county lines and more intelligence that led me to decide on commencing a dedicated operation to try and address it."
He said most of those who died were aged over 25, indicative of long-term users, and had taken a cocktail of Class A drugs and other substances such as prescribed drugs.