A teenager press-ganged into a County Lines drug operation by a gun-toting dealer told jurors of the miserable conditions in which he was forced to live in a house of horrors in Bicester.

The 19-year-old from Hertfordshire, who exceptionally we are not naming, spoke of being forced to repeatedly stash cling-film-wrapped lumps of heroin and crack cocaine in his bottom – and living in constant fear of a shadowy gangster he knew only by the initial ‘M’.

He said he’d been kidnapped, had a gun held to his head and been stabbed during his terrifying ordeal at the hands of the County Lines gangsters.

The blond youngster, who had no previous convictions, was put on trial at Oxford Crown Court this week on an allegation of possession with intent to supply heroin worth almost £800 – but formally found not guilty after prosecutors decided part-way through the trial to offer no evidence.


Oxford Crown Court, where the trial was heard Picture: ED NIX

Oxford Crown Court, where the trial was heard Picture: ED NIX


He was caught when police found him in a cuckooed bungalow in Bicester during a drugs raid last December. The drugs had been ‘plugged’ in his rectum and showed up on x-rays taken at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

The teenager did not deny being involved in drug dealing but claimed he had been a modern-day slave – trafficked from Watford to Oxfordshire and forced to sell drugs to Bicester addicts.

That defence, introduced in 2015 by the Modern Slavery Act, is rarely run in the criminal courts.

Taking to the stand on Thursday, the fresh-faced drug runner’s evidence gave an unusual insight into the sordid world of the children caught up in County Lines gangs.

All over a £300 weed debt

The defendant told the jury his involvement in dealing drugs began when he fell into a £300 cannabis debt to ‘M’ in mid-2020.

The teen struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of suffering appalling physical assaults at the hands of his dad – including one attack that took place in broad daylight after school and which resulted in his father being hauled before the magistrates.

Smoking cannabis helped him to sleep, he said. In 2020 he was 17, smoking around an eighth of an ounce – or £30-worth – of the class B drug a day.

‘M’ had cannabis to sell. But the six footer, who drove a flash black Audi, didn’t deal in small amounts. He said he could give the teen £300-worth of the drug ‘on tick’ – smoke now, pay later. His conditions: show him where he lived and be sure to get the cash by Friday.


The youth was trafficked by a mystery man known only as M, the teen said Picture: PIXABAY

The youth was trafficked by a mystery man known only as 'M', the teen said Picture: PIXABAY

Friday morning came and the teen, who’d been doing tree surgery work for local traveller families and was expecting to be paid £350 that day, turned up to find that his bosses had left without notice.

Did you ask anyone for help? his barrister Danielle Manson asked. “No, I just thought I’d be able to get the money and I didn’t, maybe, understand the seriousness of what I was involved in.”

‘M’ was ‘sort of alright’ when the teen told him he didn’t have the money but warned his customer that he would be charging £100 interest for every day he didn’t pay.

Early the next week he received a phone call from the now irate dealer, accusing the boy of ‘taking the p***’.

They agreed to meet at the top of the teenager’s road. “He pushed me up against the car. He told me I’d f***ed up, I was stupid. He said he was going to shank [stab] me if I didn’t get in the car.”

Gun to his head

The boy was driven to a Watford council estate. As well as ‘M’ there were two other men in the Audi.

He was ordered into a stinking flat littered with drug needles. ‘M’ punched him in the face then pulled out a gun and held it to his head. “Don’t think I won’t shoot you,” he growled – letting the clip of bullets fall from the weapon.

The dealer kept his gun at the boy’s head as an associate hauled down the child’s trousers. ‘M’ pulled out a cling-film wrapped package and said: “You’re going to have to plug this.”

“They were telling me they were going to hurt my mum,” the boy told the jury. He did as he was told, saying he felt ‘uncomfortable and humiliated’.


File image of a gun; the runner said he was threatened with a weapon Picture: PEXELS

File image of a gun; the runner said he was threatened with a weapon Picture: PEXELS

“[M] told me I was going to have to go with him to work the debt off. I didn’t actually know where we were going, but he ended up driving me to Bicester,” he said.

His trips to Bicester could last a few days or a couple of weeks. The runners would get a call from their boss telling them another customer was on their way. “I’d have to unplug what I had plugged [in my bottom], take out £100-worth, maybe 10 wraps.”

The boy was told that he’d also have to store loose wraps of drugs in his mouth and, if the police caught him, he was to swallow them.

“We weren’t really allowed to sleep that much. If there was a time we were sleeping or a time no one was answering the phone he would make sure he would come and get to the bottom of why we were not answering the phone,” he said.

Working for a pizza a day

The runners, who were made to live in the ‘cuckooed’ properties of local drug addicts, were given just one meal a day – a ‘plain’ pizza from the nearby takeaway.

The teenager, who was just 17 at the time, said: “At one point I saw an overdose and I had to turn someone on their side to stop them choking [on] sick.” When another boy lost £800, an enraged ‘M’ said he’d kill him.

In August, the house was raided by armed police. “I was just scared, but sort of relieved at the same time because I thought it was all going to be done,” said the boy.

Detectives didn’t press charges, instead referring the case to a department of the Home Office to consider whether he was a ‘modern slave’.

As a result of the referral, a social worker got in touch asking for a meeting. Due to the Covid-19 social distancing measures it had to be held outside – with the social worker keen to meet outside the library or in a park.

“It was a private situation and we were going to be in public talking about it. I didn’t want to see people who thought I was saying something to someone of authority. I didn’t think it was a good idea.”

The boy was called by ‘M’, who told him he was ‘too hot’ – meaning there was too much police interest in him.

His debt, however, was not forgotten.

Return to Bicester

Returning from visiting a friend in another part of town, the dealer pulled up alongside in his black Audi and lowered the window. “My heart just dropped. Everything had been going calm. I’d been working with my uncle,” jurors were told.

‘M’ snarled: “Jump in, we’ve got talking to do.” The boy felt a punch to his shoulder blade but it was no fist; one of the dealer’s cronies had stabbed him in the back and was slashing apart his down jacket, he said.

Bundled into the car, his wound was sprayed with aftershave. ‘M’ told him to keep the wound covered and warned him against going to the hospital.

Jurors were shown a picture of the boy’s naked back, taken at the time and sent via social media app Snapchat. The image revealed a nasty red wound across his left shoulder blade – and corroborated when the teen took off his white school shirt and walked slowly past the jury showing his white scar.

From around November 30, when he was stabbed, until December 16 when police raided a house in Market End Way, Bicester. The teen, who said he’d been based at another cuckooed property in the town, was called to the flat by ‘M’ to do a ‘count up of the drugs’.

He and another teenager, who was also arrested in the December raid, went to the house. “When we went in he told me I had to unplug what I had plugged and he counted all the wraps. He told me he would be back later to bring crack because in the wraps there was only heroin,” he said from the stand.


Market End Way, Bicester Picture: GOOGLE

Market End Way, Bicester Picture: GOOGLE

He was asked by his barrister why he was only now saying he was a ‘slave’, having answered no comment to all questions in his December police interview.

The teen said he didn’t think it was ‘fair’ for him to be punished for something he had ‘no control over and was forced into doing’.

Prosecution dropped

Prosecutor Jonathan Stone took the decision to offer no evidence after the defendant showed jurors the scar on his back – corroborating his claims he’d been stabbed.

Mr Stone said: “I’m under a continuing duty to review a case as to whether or not there is a realistic prospect of conviction.”

The defendant’s evidence coupled with the anticipated evidence of an expert in County Lines trafficking meant he did not think he could make the jury sure that the defendant was not a ‘modern slave’, as the teen claimed.

Judge Daly directed the jury to find the defendant not guilty of possession with intent to supply class A drugs.

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