Gang leaders who trafficked a teenager from north London to Wales to deal drugs have been jailed under modern slavery laws, in the first case of its kind.
Prosecutors said the young woman was treated “like a commodity” by Mahad Yusuf, 21, and Fesal Mahamud, 20, who were members of a street gang based in Enfield.
They used social media to target their victim last May, promising work to lure her to meet them in North London. Then they drove her to Swansea.
There, Yusuf told the woman she now “belonged to him”, her mobile phone was destroyed and she was held in a flat.
She was also beaten, punched in the face and forced to conceal Class A drugs inside her.
Scotland Yard identified the address as a suspected hub for the supply of the supply of drugs along so-called “county lines” from London to Wales.
Five days after the 19-year-old woman went missing, officers found her when they raided the home on 25 May.
Police said Mahamud remained in London to direct the drug dealing in Swansea via mobile phone. Yusuf acted as an “enforcer”, ensuring deliveries reached their destination.
The men pleaded guilty to trafficking the woman for the purposes of exploitation under the Modern Slavery Act and conspiracy to supply Class A drugs at Swansea Crown Court.
Mahamud, of Enfield, was jailed for 10 years and Yusuf, of Edmonton, for nine. Both men have also been made subject of a 20-year Slavery Trafficking Prevention Order.
Nicola Rees, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said text messages and CCTV evidence proved the young woman’s “harrowing” account of her experience.
“The teenage girl at the centre of this case was trafficked and abused by gang members in order to deal drugs,” she said. “She was treated as a commodity, transported to an unfamiliar location without any means of contacting her family or friends and forced to carry Class A drugs.”
Scotland Yard said the case was the first time in British legal history that human trafficking legislation was used in a “county lines” case.
Detective Inspector Rick Stewart, who led the investigation, said: “The victim in this case suffered a horrendous ordeal at the hands of these two men, who trafficked her for their own criminal gain.
“She showed tremendous courage and bravery in coming forward. Her bravery has undoubtedly prevented other people from being exploited. Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of this heinous crime and sends a message that the exploitation of young people will not be tolerated.”
Detective Superintendent Tim Champion, who leads the Met’s work against county lines gangs, said the exploitation of young and vulnerable people to move drugs across the country was taking supply “to a new level”.
UK news in pictures
“We will prioritise these criminal networks and utilise all legislation available to disrupt their offending and safeguard those caught up in ‘county lines’,” he added. “These offenders are trafficking young people to maximise their profits in the drug market and the use of the Modern Slavery Act is a proportionate and necessary response.”
The landmark case came after officials warned that British people are making up the largest proportion of known modern slaves in the UK for the first time.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the rise was down to police reporting teenage victims exploited by criminal gangs like those in the Enfield case.
Yusuf and Mahamud were in one of hundreds of “county lines” groups using teenagers as sex or as drug mules to supply drugs from urban centres into rural areas.
Gangs frequently use children as young as 12 in the belief they will be less suspicious and receive lenient sentences if caught.
Some of the children found in the trade also have mental health issues and are drug users themselves, coming from broken homes, traumatic lives, state care or having been reported missing, the NCA said.
Several police forces have discovered care homes being “actively targeted” to recruit vulnerable children, while sexual grooming was also found in some areas seeing girls being coerced into “relationships” with gang members.
The NCA estimates there are more than 720 of the lines across England and Wales alone, with each seeing “multiple” children drawn into drug running, while toddlers have been found in homes being used by dealers.
Anyone with concerns about the exploitation of young or vulnerable individuals is asked to contact the police, Crimestoppers, NSPCC, Childline or the Modern Slavery helpline on 08000 121 700.