BY JAMES TWOMEY
A gang leader who earned up to £2,000 a day has been jailed in a landmark case over modern human trafficking offences in a ‘county lines’ drug-dealing bust.
Michael Karemera, 25, of Lewisham was charged with three counts of human trafficking after his gang used young and vulnerable people from South London to transport and sell drugs across county boundaries into Hampshire.
Karemera, pictured, stood trial at Inner London Crown Court and pleaded guilty part-way through his cross examination.
One of the victims told the court that when he tried to leave the gang lifestyle he was stripped naked by associates of Karemera and had a gun placed in his mouth, threatening him with his life if he didn’t stay.
The case stands as one of the first successful prosecutions using modern day slavery laws against drug gangs who use young people to deal drugs in areas outside where a gang normally operates.
Karemera had already been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2016 for the selling of class A drugs with the human trafficking verdict handed down last Wednesday.
When the offences first came to light in 2014, the victims were three girls and two boys aged between 14 and 16, as well as a man aged 19.
The victims were arrested by Hampshire police for drug dealing offences in Portsmouth in spring 2014 and it was established that all six individuals came from South London.
After selling the drugs, the victims would deposit the earnings, which could be as much as £2,000 a day.
Specialist prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, Kate Mulholland, said: “This case represents one of the few times that drug dealers have been prosecuted for arranging the travel and exploitation of teenage couriers.
“The thorough prosecution case included covert policing techniques and use of mobile phone data. We were also able to prosecute this landmark case without the need for the children, who were victims of crime, to give evidence.
Where drug dealers use children to carry drugs the CPS will prosecute them for the further offence of trafficking.”
Karemera will be sentenced alongside two other gang members – one from Tottenham and the other from Canterbury – for their human trafficking charges at Inner London Crown Court on May 14.
Safeguarding lead of the National County Lines Coordination Centre, Tim Champion, said: “Exploiting vulnerable children in this way is unacceptable and individuals who do this will be prioritised and find themselves additionally convicted of human trafficking offences, which are often subject to long prison sentences.
“The issue of county lines is very complex and brings together deep-rooted criminal behaviour, such as gang membership, drugs supply, drug abuse and human trafficking.
This case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between police and partners and I believe that today marks an important step forward in tackling this problem.”