Three men who got vulnerable teenagers to take crack cocaine and heroin to coastal communities have been jailed for a total of 12-and-a-half-years.
Glodi Wabelua, Dean Alford and Michael Karemera, all 25, were charged under the Modern Slavery Act and are thought to be the first to face such a charge for drugs offences.
They recruited three boys and three girls, aged between 14 and 19, to carry the drugs down to addicts in the Portsmouth area between November 2013 September 2014, and got them to bring cash back to London.
It was an example of “county lines” – when gangs exploit youngsters to sell drugs, often travelling across counties.
Such was the men’s control that the victims had to ask permission to use proceeds from the drugs to buy food, and were not allowed to return until all the drugs had been sold.
The teenagers were forced to hide packages of drugs in their body cavities and were housed in squalid conditions with local users during their stay, often with needles lying around.
When one of them had £100 in cash and £100 worth of drugs stolen from him by a user, associates of Karemera staged a mock execution to terrify him into promising to return the money.
He was stripped naked and had a gun placed in his mouth, Inner London Crown Court heard.
The other five refused to give statements.
Evidence was pieced together using DNA and mobile phone data.
While several of the victims were initially prosecuted in the youth courts for supplying class A drugs, officers investigating county lines operations later looked at the threats and coercion they had been subjected to.
Judge Usha Karu said the victims’ vulnerability made it less likely that they would report being exploited to the authorities.
“The level of psychological harm they may have suffered is hard to gauge,” she said.
“For children who are vulnerable it is quick and easy money – the fact that they consented is plainly no defence.”
She told the defendants: “Text messages (on the victims’) mobile phones showed the level of control exercised by you.”
The defendants were initially charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs and human trafficking when they were first arrested between September and October 2014.
The drugs supply offences were addressed first, and resulted in all three men being convicted of conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin in February 2016 at Woolwich Crown Court.
Alford was jailed for 11 years, Karemera for 10, while Wabelua received six years eight months after an early guilty plea.
After being convicted of trafficking, Karemera, from Lewisham, was jailed for five years, Alford, from Canterbury, for four and Wabelua, from Tottenham, for three-and-a-half years.
Those sentences will run concurrently with the previous ones.