THEY were vying for control of the drugs supply in Southampton and across the south coast.
Each member of this eight-man gang played a vital part in peddling heroin and crack cocaine on the streets of the city – determined to be the main suppliers and dealers in the area.
But today all but one are behind bars, serving sentences totalling 29 years after a serious crime led detectives to uncover and disband one of the key drugs supply networks, known as ‘Marcus’, which has been operating in the city for years.
It was in the early hours of April 9, 2011 – just 12 hours after a fatal shooting at the city’s docks on board a submarine in a completely unrelated incident – that a gun was fired again, elsewhere in Southampton.
At a house in Northumberland Road, seven shots were fired into the communal area from an automatic machine gun and the victim, Aaron Conway, was left with a gunshot wound to the foot.
It was the latest incident of increasing drugs-related violence in Southampton and it had reached a shocking new level.
But despite the efforts of police, witnesses were reluctant to help and Conway said little to assist.
However, it was during the initial investigations into what had happened that police recovered a mobile phone that was to help them unravel some of the most serious drug-related trouble in Southampton, as well as disturb the flow of class A drugs into the city. The mobile, known as the “deal” or “dirty” phone, was central to the mysteriously- named Marcus network. It contained key phone numbers, but was also the point at which users could place orders.
Last August officers from the Hampshire Major Investigation Team (HMIT) launched an investigation, codenamed Operation Lundy, aimed at discovering exactly what was going on and how vast amounts of crack cocaine and heroin were being brought to the south coast from London.
Using a variety of tactics, including surveillance on properties and undercover officers to buy drugs, they watched the movements of Paul Hughes, Ahmed Salim, Jamiu Abdulrahman, Justin Barton, Conway, Philip Walker, Mohammed Sharmarke and Joseph Horgan.
It quickly became apparent that Salim, using a rented red Mini Cooper, was transporting the drugs from the capital to Southampton – racking up more than 18,000 miles in the three months police were watching him.
They found that as well as in Northumberland Road, a property already linked to Conway, there was related activity in Hill Farm Road and Chapel Road, near St Mary’s Stadium. Undercover officers posing as drug users managed to buy crack cocaine and heroin several times, setting up deals by calling the “dirty”
phone and speaking to Hughes, who would then meet the buyers himself or send out runners to complete the transaction.
Southampton Crown Court heard how on one occasion officer had been directed to a bus stop in Hill Lane to collect their goods, while another time the drugs were handed over near to homes in Wilton Avenue. Drug deals would also regularly take place in and around the city centre, close to St Mary’s Church or the nearby underpass.
Over the course of the next three months police watched members of the gang coming to and from the various houses, depositing cash at banks, visiting a locksmith and carrying a safe to a property in Carlton Place.
They arrested Abdulrahman twice – once after the landlord of the Northumberland Road property reported concerns about drug dealing, and a month later in a swoop at Mayflower Park.
The first time they found he had £200 cash on him, and when he was picked up in the park he was carrying 19 drug wraps and a deal list.
Salim, who had earlier been spotted in a Jaguar showroom admiring a car worth £68,000, was also arrested in the Mayflower Park raid.
He was found to have two mobile phones on him, and his fingerprints were on the deal list.
Conway, meanwhile, was stopped in the street, searched and found with 25 wraps of cocaine, cannabis and cash.
As the operation developed, investigators built up a picture of a network supplying large quantities of drugs from London to key properties in Southampton and West Sussex, from where they were sold. Armed with the evidence, a team of 100 officers and police staff carried out dawn raids across Hampshire, London and Surrey on December 6 last year, arresting 11 people. In total, £16,000-worth of heroin and crack cocaine was recovered or known to have been dealt.
The safe the dealers had been seen with was found at a Kingsclere Avenue squat where Hughes was living. It had traces of class A drugs on it, and officers discovered the key on Salim.
Eight members of the network were charged, with all but one admitting their part in the conspiracy.
Barton, the only one who denied involvement, was convicted by a Southampton Crown Court jury earlier this year.
Detective Inspector Simon Baker, who led Operation Lundy, said: “This investigation stemmed from an incident in April 2011 when a sub-machine gun was discharged on the streets of Southampton. This incident could easily have resulted in a murder and it was only through pure luck that it didn’t.
“Officers from HMIT were determined to rid the streets of those involved in the supply of class A drugs in the city. We used a variety of tactics to obtain sufficient evidence to ensure these individuals were convicted for their roles in a well organised drug network, and I am proud of the tireless work my team has done to achieve this.”
The Gang Members:
PAUL HUGHES - Sentence: Six years
HEROIN addict Hughes was a major player in the network, commanding and co-ordinating a string of runners beneath him after getting into dealing to pay off his own huge drug debts.
The Ireland-born 31-year-old, of Kingsclere Avenue, Southampton, had the mobile phone at the
centre of the conspiracy, regularly contacting Salim and Conway to organise deliveries from London to the main stash houses. Police found a safe at the dad-of-one’s house, while he had £870 in cash on him when he was arrested in October.
AHMED SALIM - Sentence: Five years
SALIM was in charge of logistics for the gang, ferrying heroin and crack cocaine from London to
properties in Southampton and West Sussex. Driving up and down the M3 virtually every day, the 22-year-old clocked up more than 18,000 miles in just three months visiting Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Eastbourne in a rented Mini Cooper. Salim, from London, was said to be motivated by money and played an important “management function” in the chain, close to the source of the drugs.
JAMIU ABDULRAHMAN - Sentence: Three years
THE youngest member of the conspiracy, Abdulrahman got into drug-dealing to make money he hoped to use to finance his music business. The 18-year-old, from London, was born in Nigeria and brought to the UK by his parents. A street dealer, he was seen on several occasions at locations around Southampton where drugs were sold, and was forensically linked to individual deals through DNA evidence.
AARON CONWAY - Sentence: Six years.
THE victim of the shooting that sparked the investigation, Conway started out as a street dealer but progressed through the organisation. Known to have strong links to the organisation in London, he was seen associating with Salim and Hughes and was spotted travelling in the rented Mini Cooper used to bring drugs from the capital to the south coast. The 27-year-old, from London, was seen at premises used for selling drugs, and was arrested with Barton at a known dealing location in Portsmouth.
JOSEPH HORGAN - Sentence: Supervision order
THE drugs runner made more than 20 transactions with undercover officers. The 30-year-old dad-of-two was once a civil engineer who held down full-time jobs, but became a “hanger-on” to the conspiracy through his heroin addiction. He performed a lesser role in the network, but did have knowledge of the scope of the operation and worked as part of gang. Horgan, of Bellevue Road, Southampton, has an extensive list of previous convictions, including many for class B drugs.
MOHAMMED SHARMARKE - Sentence: Three years.
A TRUSTED carrier for the gang, Sharmarke brought £16,000-worth of crack cocaine and heroin to Hill Farm Road in December 2011. The 28-year-old father-of-two from London, played a limited role
under the direction of others, but prosecutors said he must have had some clear idea of the scale of the Marcus operation. Although his list of previous convictions was not as serious as
others’, it included possession of cocaine with intent to supply.
JUSTIN BARTON - Sentence: Four years
THE only member of the gang to deny his role, Barton was a senior runner motivated by cash.
Police found text messages that proved he was in contact with other members of the conspiracy on significant days, and when he was arrested he had £247 in cash and three wraps of heroin on him. The 20-year-old, from Orpington in Surrey, remains in denial about his involvement, but was proved to have a significant role as a runner, with money being deposited into his account by Salim.
PHILIP WALKER - Sentence: 26 months
STREET dealer Walker admitted to police he had been “stupid” after repeatedly selling drugs to
undercover officers investigating the gang. The 42-year-old, of Greenlea Crescent, Southampton, was attempting to grow cannabis plants at home when he was arrested.
But while he hoped to net himself up to £24,000 a year harvesting the crop every six weeks, his heroin addiction meant his “hapless” attempts were unlikely to have got the plants to full maturity.