A 15-year-old boy ran county lines drug operations despite being in Devon County Council care and supposedly under round-the-clock supervision.

The boy already had a conviction for drug dealing and was sent to a string of placements over 16 months including four where he was the only child in a house with one or two full time staff at all times.

His placements included one with foster parents near Newton Abbot and another at a bespoke care home near Honiton.

He was able to control a series of drug dealing operations in Devon using mobile phones to send offers to addicts, take orders, and arrange deliveries.

The specialist placements in Wales, Essex and Devon, cost Devon County Council tax payers up to an estimated £20,000 a week, the equivalent of £1 million a year, but only one proved successful in stopping his drug dealing.

The boy, then just 14, was sentenced to a Youth Rehabilitation Order with ‘intensive supervision’ in September 2020 after admitting drug dealing at Exeter Crown Court.

He returned to dealing the next month and remained part of an operation run by a Liverpool-based organised crime group for 16 months. He was found guilty of conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin by a jury at Exeter earlier this month.

After the case, a senior prosecutor said it was ‘particularly concerning’ that teenaged boys had been used by the drugs gang and that they had armed themselves with weapons.

The boy, now aged 17, was in council care throughout the 16 months covered by the conspiracy, which ran until February this year. He gave evidence at his trial that he had not been to school throughout this time.

He was arrested five times with drugs cash, or weapons, including knives and an air gun, and returned to the care of the local authority on each occasion.

His most active period of drug dealing took place when he was one of only three children at a home in Essex, where phone evidence showed he was a full-time drug dealer.

He even arranged for a courier to make a 400 mile round trip to drop off mobile phones so he could carry on dealing.

The boy only stopped during a three month, one-to-one placement in South Wales, where he was housed between April and July 2021.

He returned to his mother’s home in Exeter after this successful placement but linked up again with the gang and carried on running a series of lines with the street names of Peter Andre, Scouse Terry and Ramsey.

He was arrested again and moved to another one-to-one placement in North Devon where he arrested again while selling drugs in Ilfracombe.

Social workers next tried putting him with a foster family but that did not work and he was moved again to another bespoke home in which he was the only child.

He carried on drug dealing throughout. He even sent out dozens of mass texts offering heroin and cocaine while he was inside Exeter Crown Court for a preliminary hearing.

He boasted about earning £1,200 a day but claimed in court he was a modern slave who was forced to send the profits back up the line and only paid £50 a week plus free trainers and designer clothes.

He told a friend of his mother, who tried to get him to stop: ‘This is so my lifestyle. Does it look like I’m working? I party every week. I do whatever I want and I buy whatever I want.’

He worked alongside another 15-year-old boy who was also in the care of Devon County Council and they exchanged messages, one included a photo of a gun and others showed large sums of cash.

Messages said: ‘We’re meant to be the bosses, ain’t we?’ and ‘Having a great time smacking up the punters all day long.’

The two boys, now 17 and 16, were part of a much bigger drugs conspiracy which brought hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of class A drugs and sold them in throughout Devon.

Dean Hooson, aged 29, of Duke St Cullompton, denied the same charges but was found guilty at the same trial.

Other members of the gang were found with five kilograms of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin during the massive police inquiry.

The two boys both claimed to be victims of modern slavery at a three-week trial at Exeter Crown Court but their defences were rejected by the jury and they were both found guilty of conspiracy to supply class A.

They both said they were in debt to an organised crime gang because of drugs which had been lost or seized by police during earlier arrests. The jury rejected their cases after examining their boastful messages.

They were both remanded back into the care of the local authority pending sentence in the New Year.

Judge Timothy Rose told them: ‘You are all in a supremely difficult position with the prospect of a significant sentence of imprisonment in a Young Offenders Institution.’

Opening the case, Mr Ray Tully, KC, said: ‘He operated from multiple geographical locations and from time to time was located in Wales, Essex, and Devon.

‘It didn’t matter where he was, we say he was bang at it and was persistent in supplying class A even to the extent that one day he would appear to have sent a broadcast message when he was at this very court to make an appearance over earlier drugs proceedings.’

Young people took leading roles in crime

After the  case Mrs Ann Hampshire of the Crown Prosecution Service said: ‘This was an unusual case involving some young people who took on leading roles in the criminality, instructing other youths to work on their behalf in the illegal drugs trade.

‘It was particularly concerning to find that some of the youths also carried weapons. This kind of behaviour risks serious harm to the person carrying the weapon and those who they may encounter.’

Children in care our priority

A Devon County Council spokesperson said: ‘We won’t talk about specific cases.

‘The safety of all children in our care is our priority, and we have rigorous processes in place to support them and promote their well-being.

‘Our processes are constantly under review to ensure best practice, and children’s health, safety and general wellbeing are at the centre of our all our work on their behalf.’