Police said the sentences follow a two-year investigation by the Brighton Community Investigation Team (CIT) into the HECTOR county drugs line, which brought crack cocaine and heroin into Brighton from Essex during 2020.
A Sussex Police spokesperson added: “This was the second iteration of the HECTOR line, which was first dismantled after a two-year operation by Brighton CIT, that saw ten men jailed for a total of more than 64 years.
“Police became aware of the HECTOR line returning to operation under new leadership towards the end of 2020 and an investigation revealed it was controlled by five senior leaders in Essex – Thomas Warwick, Gary Goodwin, Jayden Henry-Flavien, Liam Harvey and Harley Roberts.”
Police said three more individuals were identified as being involved in the transportation of people and drugs, and support of the criminal conspiracy – Dean Warrington, Cris Donovan and Nicola McKenzie, who allowed the group to use her property in Brighton as a base of operations.
The spokesperson added: “The investigation also found four children had been recruited to deal drugs in Brighton and Hove, transported to the city by Warrington and Donovan and in some cases allowed to stay with McKenzie.
“This practice is typical of county lines dealing, where gangs from larger urban cities deal drugs in smaller, more rural areas, often exploiting children and other vulnerable people in the process.
“Once located, the four children were treated as victims in the investigation, safeguarded and offered support by Sussex Police and community partners to help steer them away from further criminality.
“During their three months of running the HECTOR line, the group supplied around 8,000 wraps of Class A drugs in Brighton and Hove, with a street value of around £80,000.”
All eight defendants were arrested in several operations between October 2020 and the summer of 2021, according to officers.
Police said they were each subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit a modern slavery offence for their role in exploiting the children, as well as conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and conspiracy to supply heroin.
All eight pleaded guilty to all of the offences against them, Sussex Police added.
The spokesperson said: “At Hove Crown Court on Thursday (August 31), seven received the following sentences: Cris Donovan, 31, of Bishops Hall Road, Essex – five years in prison. Gary Goodwin, 23, of Eastwood Road, Essex – seven years in prison. Liam Harvey, 25, of Hermitage Drive, Essex – eight and a half years in prison. Jayden Henry-Flavien, 31, of Bellhouse Road, Southend-on-Sea – eight years in prison, including a current sentence for drug offences in Essex. Nicola McKenzie, 49, of Ingram Crescent West, Brighton – 24 months in prison, suspended for two years. Dean Warrington, 47, of Pamplins, Essex – four and half years in prison. Thomas Warwick, 32, of Prospect Close, Southend-on-Sea – 11 years in prison, including a current sentence for drug offences in Essex. Harley Roberts, 25, of Havalon Close, Essex, will be sentenced at a later date.”
Detective Superintendent Kris Ottery said: “This effective use of modern slavery legislation shows our commitment to protecting vulnerable people affected by the illegal drug trade.
“County lines drags a wide range of innocent people into its orbit and has a devastating impact on communities that goes beyond the harmful substances themselves.
“In this instance we have not just brought eight dangerous individuals to justice for their crimes – we have also safeguarded four vulnerable children and protected innumerable other people from their harmful trade.
“I would like to commend the investigative team, our partners in the Met Police and Essex Police, and the variety of community agencies for this complex, thorough investigation that has helped make the streets of Sussex safer for everyone.”