A GANG of six men were jailed for more than 25 years after their “significant” drug operation was rumbled by officers.

Led by Darren Bailey, the group targeted vulnerable drug users in Southampton, selling them cheap crack cocaine and heroin.

Between August 26, 2016, and February 7, the men were responsible for selling two-kilograms of substance to people in the city.

The operation was set up while ringleader Bailey, 26, was on the run from police due to his involvement in another drug-dealing organisation.

Prosecutor Jodie Mittell told the court that ringleader Bailey recruited his supervisor Thomas Edwards, manager Michael Edwards, middle-man Ryan Sadler and courier John Sadler to help run the gang.

Bailey would send messages to addicts and users in Southampton and tell them to call a telephone number called ‘The Scouse Network’.

From Liverpool, the operator on the network would then order others to run drugs to those people in Southampton.

In some instances, deals were sent out where people could get £10 worth of crack or heroin for the price of £5.

Another man, Joseph Kimmance, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply class A drugs after being found when police foiled their operation in February.

Ms Mittell said that more than 1,500 different numbers contacted the drugs hotline in order to obtain substances.

The court heard that during the six-month operation, the gang used three different bases to work from – at an address in Lydgate Close, Thornhill and Barnfield Way, Weston as well as bed-and-breakfast The Mayview Guest House, in The Polygon.

Michael Edwards was also found with 582 wraps of crack cocaine and 684 wraps of heroin – with a street value of £13,000 – in a black bag that he carried on a train from Liverpool to Southampton.

The operation formed part of an 18-month investigation, titled Shield, which saw multiple agencies team up to tackle those conspiring to supply class A drugs in the city.

In June, eight members of a network from Merseyside of the same name were jailed for 59 years – one of whom was Bailey.

Bailey was due to answer bail on September 16, but instead reopened the Scouse Network, which had been shut down in an earlier raid by officers.

In sentencing, Judge Peter Henry said: “The other side of what you have chosen to do has caused untold misery and suffering to those who are addicted and are users of drugs.

“This was caused by you getting involved in pedalling class A drugs and preying on the vulnerable.

“Each of you chose to become involved in this commercial enterprise and you have taken the risk and now you must pay the price.”

Bailey, of Liverpool, was sentenced to five-years imprisonment, which will run consecutively to the nine-year spell behind bars for conspiring to supply class A drugs earlier this year.

Michael Edwards was sentenced to five years, eight months – which included an additional sentence of four months for having a mobile phone whilst imprisoned – and his brother Thomas was sentenced to five years, four months.

The Sadler brothers were sentenced to four years, eight months. Kimmance was handed an 18-month sentence.

Following the case, a spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said: “This gang of men travelled from Liverpool specifically to deal drugs in Southampton. They took advantage of vulnerable drug users and used their homes to run their business, bringing misery to our communities.

“As part of Operation Fortress we are working with partner agencies in Southampton and across Hampshire to support those caught up in addiction that need our help, and to identify and convict dealers who use them to build a criminal enterprise.

“If you suspect that an address in your neighbourhood is being used for drug dealing then please call 101 or the anonymous Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.

“All information could help us catch and convict those who deal drugs. Even the smallest pieces of information can help us develop a clearer intelligence picture.”