A guerrilla street art project in the Columbia Road area of East London has led to the prosecution of more than 20 drug dealers who operated in the area.
The alliance last year between local residents and a group of anonymous artists calling themselves the Columbia Road Cartel installed parody road signs, which looked legitimate, but on closer inspection, read: “Give way to oncoming drug dealers”, “crack pick-up point” and “needle free zone.”
The initiative prompted a Metropolitan Police sting operation which led to a series of four trials which began in June and concluded earlier this week.
In the last trial, at Snaresbrook Crown Court, Julian Haynes, 33, Luke Gratton, 30, Brendan Vickers, 26, Craig Furlong, 31, Kevin Tighe, 49, Dilraj Miah, 29, Kenneth Gratton, 56, all from Tower Hamlets, and Rukon Ahmed, 29, from Forest Gate, Newham, were all found guilty of Class A drug dealing offences.
Haynes and Gratton were sentenced to four years in prison. Vickers, Miah and Ahmed were sentenced to three years, Kenneth Gratton and Tighe were sentenced to two years suspended sentence, and Furlong had his sentencing date deferred to April 2020.
Eastlondonlines spoke to Johnathon Moberley, whose stepson was a victim of a hit-and-run incident involving a drug dealer in the area last year.
As a member of the Weavers Community Action Group, an anti-drugs and anti-social behaviour organisation, he said: “We are pleased to hear the news that these drug dealers have received significant prison sentences.”
“Our lives have been blighted by the incessant dealing and consumption of heroin and crack cocaine in the neighbourhood, and these actions by the police and the courts have made a huge difference. While there is still some activity, our area is now much quieter. “
“We are very grateful for the fake road sign artwork of the Columbia Road Cartel – it was a strong artistic response to a difficult problem helping to lift the spirits in a community which was despairing at that time.”
The artwork forced police to take notice about the drug-dealing epidemic in the area and an extensive cross-borough investigation was launched.
The police investigation identified four separate phone lines being used to deal a range of drugs, including Class A substances. The drug lines were traced to a pre-paid and unregistered phone line which peaked in activity in the evening and early hours of the morning – consistent with people calling to order drugs.
The investigation came to a head in February of this year when the group was arrested at various addresses across east London. Gratton was found with £1,000 stashed under his bed. Vickers, who was arrested at his home address, was found with 100 wraps of heroin and crack cocaine on his living room table.
Jonathan Shepherd, a senior crown prosecutor from the Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement: “The different phone lines represented a coordinated effort between various drugs operations to work together to deal dangerous drugs, in effect blighting the local community to such an extent that they felt they had to take action.”
“These prosecutions aimed to take down the operational and managerial functions of these organised drug dealing groups, in order to reduce anti-social behaviour for this affected community.”
The first trial in the sequence took place in June when a number of men involved in running another drugs line all pleaded guilty to drugs charges. Abdul Goni, 26, from Bow in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 42 months. Rob Goni, 32, from Bethnal Green in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 39 months. Zack Sullivan, 26, from Poplar in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 36 months. Paul Burnett, 28, from Dagenham was sentenced to 36 months. Danny Rockman, 34, from Newmarket in Suffolk was sentenced to 41 months. Niamot Hussain, 19, from East Ham in Newham was sentenced to 39 months.
In a similar case in September, Abdul Koyes, 31, from Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 36 months. Rezwanul Choudhury, 23, from Limehouse in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 48 months. Abu Sherwan Choudhury, 24, from Dagenham was sentenced to 48 months. Akbar Hussain, 29, from Spitalfields in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 45 months. Iqbal Miah, 18, from Bow in Tower Hamlets was sentenced to 18 months in jail suspended for 18 months. Charles Morris, 51, from Hackney was sentenced to 36 months.
In the third trial in October, Shem Roberts, 26, from Hackney, was sentenced to 32 months in jail, Abdul Khan, 19, from Bow in Tower Hamlets received 40 months in a young offender’s institute. Nasir Ahmed, 21, from Stepney Green in Tower Hamlets, is still awaiting sentence.