An organised crime group which used a two month-long camper van trip to Cornwall to set up a £1.38 million drug network has been jailed for more than 86 years.

The gang recruited local addicts to help sell the drugs including Demelza Trewartha, who made a series of trips from her home in Hayle to pick up heroin and crack in Devon.

They used holiday parks, camp sites, Airbnbs and hotels around the South West as temporary homes for their dealers, including a caravan site on the Lizard.

Deliveries were made to towns and seaside resorts including Hayle, Penzance, Camborne and Truro and the gang used 38 different phones to control their activities or offer drugs to addicts.

The Cornish end of the conspiracy started in April 2021 and movements of defendants to the county increased later in the year and two of the leaders hiring a camper van in August 2021 which they got a friend to drive to the South West.

Falmouth Packet: Heroin found in a carHeroin found in a car (Image: Devon & Cornwall Police)

The van went all round Cornwall and made shorter journeys to Torbay, Newton Abbot and Ilfracombe in Devon during 11 weeks between late August and early November before it was returned to Liverpool.

Police monitored two meetings between dealers at Lizard Point as well as gang members buying top-ups for their phones in Penzance, Newlyn, and Camborne.

The camper van along with two of the drug phone lines went to Hayle on October 30 when 48-year-old Trewartha was recruited. The jury at a trial earlier this summer was told that Hayle was one of the areas where the conspirators were active.”

Trewartha, who made four trips to Devon to pick up drugs, was jailed for two years, suspended for two years and ordered to receive 12 month of drug rehabilitation treatment.

Judge Richardson told her that she was able to suspend the sentence because she had pleaded guilty and succeeded in tackling her own drug problem during the 15 months it took to bring her case to fruition.

During the two-day hearing last week, the court heard how the dealers used a camper van to tour the South West as they built up networks in Exmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torbay, Ilfracombe, Penzance, Camborne and Hayle.

Falmouth Packet: Cocaine found in a carCocaine found in a car (Image: Devon & Cornwall Police)

They ran 36 drug lines and were so successful that its leaders were spending half their time in Ibiza by the time police closed down their operation autumn last year.

The conspiracy was based in Liverpool and recruited couriers who made almost weekly trips to the West Country, setting up the first network in Exmouth in February 2021 before moving on to Torbay and Cornwall.

The dealers stayed at Airbnbs, Leisure parks and holiday camp sites including one on the Lizard where the camper vans was parked while the Cornish operation was being set up.

The 20-month-long plot involved 21 men or women, 38 drugs lines, and 33 courier trips which brought an estimated 8.8 kilograms of heroin and 6.6 kilograms of cocaine with a total value of £1.38 million.

The police seized thousands of pounds worth of drugs and £30,000 cash during five different vehicle stops and were able to trace tens of thousands of pounds passing through the gang leaders’ bank accounts. They traced more than 20,000 messages sent to users in which drugs were offered.

The leader of the conspiracy was 25-year-old Benjamin Burns who made 15 trips to the South West, including several with his girlfriend Dannielle Marshall, and bought a specially adapted phone which hid its true number and was intended to throw the police off the scent.

The next three most important members were Thomas Keating, his son Christy and cousin Georgie, who all made frequent trips to Devon and Cornwall, including using the camper van.

All of the leaders took regular holidays to Spain and Burns ran the final two drugs lines from Ibiza. The dealers sometimes flew back to Britain and hired cars at the airport to head straight to the South West.

The operation was broken up by a major police operation which included surveillance in Exmouth, Teignmouth and Camborne and relied heavily on phone evidence which showed not only how the group kept in touch with each other but also showed the movements of the main players.

The gang received jail sentences totalling 86 and a half years from Judge Richardson at Exeter Crown Court. She told them that drugs have a devastating impact on the lives of users and on society.

She said the gang had exploited local addicts in Devon and Cornwall who were recruited to help the conspiracy through the offer of free drugs or pressure to pay off debts which they had run up as a result of their habit.

Lesser members of the organised crime group, including Burns’s partner and sister and many of the local addicts who became part of the distribution network, received suspended sentences totalling almost ten years.

Judge Richardson gave formal commendations to four named members of the police team but praised the efforts of all those who led and took part in the operation, who had ploughed through more than a million items of phone data.

She said: “The reason for the success of this prosecution was the indefatigable professionalism of the investigating team. This was a Gargantuan task and a vast operation to ensure justice was served.”

She praised the officers for their ‘encyclopaedic’ mastery of the complex evidence Miss Chloe Griggs, prosecuting, said the inquiry, codenamed Operation Harbinger Two, was intended to identify those controlling street dealers ‘from the top down’.

The conspiracy began with deliveries to the first Exmouth-based drugs line in February 2021 and run until the final arrest when Thomas Keating was caught bringing heroin worth £68,600 and 13 kilograms of amphetamines worth up to £160,000 into Devon in late September 2022.

The police used extensive surveillance and were able to estimate the total value of the drugs by calculating the number of trips in which they were brought to the South West from Liverpool.

Subsequent analysis of phones allowed police to work out the links between the 21 people involved and to track the movements of the camper van through Cornwall and Devon.

Mr Hans Kehler, for Trewartha, said she received no financial benefit other than drugs to feed her own addiction. She was acting under pressure from an abusive partner who she is no longer in contact with. She had overcome her addiction with the help of drug workers and is now using the substitute drug methadone.

Lawyers representing all the other defendants said they were drawn into dealing by their youth, naivety, drug addiction, debt, or difficult personal circumstances.

All these defendant admitted or were found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin or cocaine or both and received the following sentences.


Benjamin Burns, aged 25, of Warwick Drive, Padiham, Burley; 10 years 6 months.

Thomas Keating, aged 44, of Woolfall Crescent, Huyton; 10 years.

Christy Keating, aged 24, of Dorothea Crescent, Widnes; 10 years 5 months Georgie Keating, aged 24, Cromford Road, Huyton; 11 years 5 months.

Couriers: Kevin Mallen, aged 41, of Lincombe Road, Liverpool; 6 years 4 months.

Christopher Mallen, aged 65, of Nyland Road, Knowsley; 6 years.

Other Liverpool based dealers

Jake Myers, aged 23, of Gladcia Close, Huyton; 3 years 6 months.

Jamie Marshall, aged 22, of Burham Close, Penge, London; 6 years.

Lee Paton, aged 34, of James Holt Avenue, Kirkby; 2 years 7 months.

Taylor Burns, aged 31, of Ottershaw Gardens, Blackburn: 5 years 2 months James Casey, aged 45, of Woolfall Crescent, Liverpool; 2 years suspended for 2 years.

Devon and Cornwall based

Richard Morsley, aged 43, of Muckworthy, Ashwater, near Holsworthy; 4 years 6 months.

Dillon Ballard, aged 29, of Pershore Road, Birmingham, and formerly of Parrys Farm Close, Exmouth; 2 years suspended for 2 years.

Adrian Mulcahy, aged 36, of Pershore Road, Birmingham, and formerly of Parrys Farm Close, Exmouth; 2 years suspended for 2 years.

Benjamin Hopkins, aged 46, , of Shoreside, Shaldon, Teignmouth; 2 years suspended for 2 years.

John O'Neill, aged 51, of High Street, Exmouth; 5 years 6 months.

Demelza Trewartha, aged 48, of Higher Trevithick, Hayle; 2 years, suspended for 2 years.

John Ward, aged 55, of East Cliff Road, Dawlish; 3 years.

Other defendents

Three defendants admitted lesser offences. They are:

Joanna Buchanan, aged 49, of Shoreside, Shaldon, Teignmouth: admitted assisting an organised crime group and production of cannabis. 12 months suspended for 2 years.

Maggie Burns, aged 21, of Homer Road, Knowsley; 12 months suspended for 2 years.

Dannielle Marshall, 27, of Wichling Close, Orpington; both admitted money laundering and assisting an organised crime group. 18 months suspended for 2 years.