A FAMILY of drug dealers who exploited children to flood the streets of East Lancashire with drugs using the ‘Tigerline’ hotline have been jailed for a total of 97 months.

Burnley Crown Court heard how brothers Zeeshan and Adnan Khan and their cousin Hamza Khan conspired to sell drugs through the Tigerline, which was the dedicated phone line used by the group to sell heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis.

Prosecutor Charles Brown said although the conspiracy ran between May 2017 and October 2018, examination of the mobile phones tied to the conspiracy between May and July 2018 showed the Tigerline was receiving 464 calls or text messages from customers per day.

The court heard some members of the conspirators exerted pressure others to sell drugs for them, including one 16-year-old boy.

Mr Brown said it was the prosecution’s case is that all three defendants played different roles within this conspiracy, with Hamza described as having an ‘executive but not board of director’ position.

Adnan had a similar position within the structure of the Tigerline conspiracy, however he ‘exerted some degree of control on the street dealers’, Mr Brown said.

By his own basis of plea Zeeshan was acting as a street dealer for a short period prior to his arrest outside Asda on July 5, 2017, whereafter he became a ‘warehouse man’, ensuring there was always a stock of drugs to sell.

The court heard it was the arrest of 21-year-old Zeeshan which sparked the 18-month investigation, codenamed ‘Nepal’, that eventually led to the conspiracy being unravelled.

While he was being detained by officers a number of text messages linked to drug dealing were sent to his telephone number, which go on to be known as the Tigerline.

That number initially became dormant but was later set up and mobile phones seized in a number of drugs raids over the following 18 months were all tied to the Tigerline number.

The final raids came in October 4, 2018 the Khans were arrested and further drugs, namely £27,350 of heroin, £26,825 of crack cocaine and £6,100 of cannabis, were recovered from the home of Zeeshan and Adnan Khan on Gordon Street in Burnley, along with the Tigerline mobile phone.

Earlier this month Mohammed Hamza Khan, 22, of March Street, Burnley, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, Zeeshan Khan, 21, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, and Adnan Khan, 22, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class B drugs.

READ > REVEALED: The top crime hot spots in your area

Mr Brown said: “The offences arise out of, the Crown say, a conspiracy to supply these various drugs by the defendants which takes place between May 2017 and October 2018. It cot the case the Crown necessarily say the defendants were involved, all of them, throughout that time. There were comings and goings. The sale of the drugs revolved around the the Tigerline telephone line,”

Defence barristers Balraj Bhatia, Daniel Lister and Mark Stuart all said their clients had shown genuine remorse for what they had done and had used the time they had already spent in custody productively.

Zeeshan was jailed for 31 months, Adnan who was only linked to the supply of cannabis was jailed for 15 months and Hamza was jailed for four years and three months.

Speaking after the hearing, Detective Sergeant Martin Kennedy said: “I welcome these significant sentences which reflect the gravity of the offences committed by these individuals.

“My message to these gangs is if you engage in criminal activities like this then you should expect you and your vehicles to be stopped and searched by police officers. We will disrupt your day to day activities and make your lives as difficult as possible. Where necessary, we will make arrests and you could be charged.

“The criminal exploitation of teenagers and vulnerable adults has received considerable media attention in the recent past with particular focus on the risks of county lines activity.

“Organised crime groups use children and adults to transport and sell Class A drugs, primarily from urban areas into market or coastal towns or rural areas to establish new drug markets or take over existing ones.

“County lines involves human trafficking and exploitation, alongside drug supply and violent crime and is a highly lucrative business with those running the lines earning thousands of pounds per day. Those adults running the gangs are removed from front line activity and exploit youths who are at high-risk transporting and selling drugs often many miles from home. There are high levels of violence and intimidation linked to this activity.

“In addition to targeting those criminals who are causing these issues we will be safeguarding any children or adults who we believe are vulnerable to these groups.

“While I am confident we have a clear picture of those responsible for these issues, I would like to encourage the community to report any information around county lines groups to contact us on 101 or independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”