Xavion Benson ran the Peter and Zak drug lines, which were operating between London and Clacton between November 2021 and March 2022 It was supplying Class A drugs to users in the Clacton area.
His conviction, under the Modern Slavery Act, is the first of its kind in Essex.
In January 2022, he trafficked a teenage boy from London to Clacton and ordered him to sell drugs on his behalf.
The boy was forced to live in squalor for almost two weeks before he was able to return home. During that time, he was not able to wash, brush his teeth, did not eat or drink regularly and had visibly lost weight.
Benson, an apparent drill music artist, promised the boy £2,800 in payment for his “work”, though that money was never paid.
An investigation was initially launched when the boy’s parents reported him missing to the Metropolitan Police.
Thanks to the work of officers in our Op Raptor team, they were able to link the boy’s phone with the numbers being used to run Peter and Zak drug lines, which were already under investigation, and which were active in Clacton.
Officers from the Met Op Orochi then worked to establish who held the drug lines so they could be targeted directly.
As a result of those investigations, Benson was arrested in a joint operation on 24 March 2022 and questioned on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.
Further work uncovered a music video of a drill music artist which had been published online under the performance name of ‘Pushweight Bandit’.
Officers from our Op Raptor North team were able to identify Benson as the performer.
During that song, Benson brags about sending a “young boy” out to sell drugs.
This video formed part of the case presented to the Crown Prosecution Service.
At the end of 2021 there were: 12,727 potential victims of modern slavery – the highest number of referrals since the records began in 2009. 43% of all of these were children – meaning there were 5,468 potential child victims. 31% of people referred were British nationals.
A second man, Ryan Arrowsmith, was also identified as being concerned in the drug lines.
Arrowsmith was responsible for sending out bulk marketing messages, advertising “fat deals 2 for 15 3 for 25 freebies for numbers”.
Op Orochi and Op Raptor officers were able identify a vehicle linked to him, which was regularly used to travel from London to Clacton.
He too was arrested in March 2022 after a warrant was executed at his home, in Braundton Avenue, Sidcup.
During a search of this home, officers caught him trying to flush the drugs down the toilet in the ensuite, in an attempt to destroy evidence.
In total, more than £2,000 worth of drugs were seized.
Benson, 22, of Creek Road, London, SE8, was charged with being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs and human trafficking.
Ryan Arrowsmith, 32, of Simnel Road, London, was charged with being concerned in the supply of heroin, being concerned in the supply of crack cocaine and possession with intent to supply a Class A drug.
Both men admitted the offences.
Arrowsmith was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court on Friday 25 November to four years and three months in jail and an application was made for a criminal behaviour order.
Today, Monday 13 March, both men appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court.
Benson was sentenced to five years and seven months in prison.
Recorder Eynon-Evans also imposed a slavery and trafficking prevention order which prevents him from arranging travel for anyone other than himself or a family member. It will be in place for seven years.
The order begins from today. That means if Benson is found to breach any of the conditions whilst serving his sentence, he can be prosecuted.
Our application for a criminal behaviour order for Arrowsmith was successful. His order will be in place for seven years.
Detective Inspector James Healy, of our serious violence unit, said:
“County lines gangs not only target vulnerable people in our communities, but they also target and groom vulnerable children to carry out their work.
“This is trafficking and exploitation; nothing less. It is a disgusting crime, and we were determined to pursue a conviction under the Modern Slavery Act given the impact Benson’s actions have had on both the young boy and his family.
“This is the first conviction of its type in Essex, and I am extremely proud of the team for the tireless work they have put into identifying the people responsible, arresting them and putting them before the court.
“It is also a testament to the officer in this case that she was not content with the drugs conviction for Benson. She identified the further harm his actions caused to the boy and his family and relentlessly pursued a modern slavery conviction.
“Both Benson and Arrowsmith were responsible for the supply of Class A drugs on our streets. We do not tolerate that in Essex. They were unaware of the highly sophisticated investigation being carried out into their behaviour and when our strikes came in March, the evidence against them was already overwhelming and they have had no option but to admit their guilt in front of the courts.
“The work carried out between Essex officers and those from the Met’s Op Orochi specialist command shows that we are not tackling this issue alone; we’re doing it with our policing partners, as well as our local authority partners.”
Gangs aim to recruit children
PC Harlie Turner, who led our investigation, added:
“One of the main aims of these gangs is to recruit young children into their lifestyle. It is common for more established gang members to offer acts of kindness to children to win them over.
“They are promised a life of money and designer clothes. But they are being duped. Very sadly these children soon find out the reality is nothing like the promise. Instead, they often go missing for long periods of time, creating terror for their parents who have no idea where they are.
“The children will stay in squalor conditions with little or no food and drink as they work to earn money for the gang elders.
“In this case, I am so glad that we were able to work alongside our Met colleagues to save this boy from gang life to allow he and his family to build a future away from people like Benson and Arrowsmith.”
New small boats bill
Wilson solicitors said “In 2015, the UK government, led by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) designed to significantly enhance support and protection for victims and be ‘the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century.’ However, just 8 years after the MSA’s introduction, this Bill seeks to radically undermine these protections.
The duty to remove and power to detain under the Bill apply equally to victims of modern slavery and trafficking. This appears to be the case even if the individuals are forced to arrive or enter the UK illegally due to their modern slavery or trafficking situations. The only exception is where the victim is cooperating with public authorities in an investigation or criminal proceedings concerning their exploitation. However, victims have no say when the police or another authority decides to investigate or pursue proceedings. Further if victims are removed without their exploitation being explored, then no investigation or criminal proceedings would be possible. This is a key concern given victims are often, understandably, traumatised by their exploitation and require time and specialist support before they may disclose the facts of their exploitation.
The entitlement to time for victims to recover is enshrined in Article 13 of the European Convention Against Trafficking (ECAT), that the UK has ratified. Article 13 provides that parties to ECAT must provide a “recovery and reflection period” of at least 30 days. Under the Bill, victims would be denied this right. This is therefore in direct breach with the UK’s international obligation to victims of trafficking.
Article 13(3) of ECAT provides an exception to this obligation “if grounds of public order prevent it or it is found that victim status is being claimed improperly”. And herein lies the key to why the government is insisting that victims of modern slavery and trafficking are “gaming” the system, in spite of an absence of evidence. By suggesting there is evidence of this, they are seeking to get round their international obligations and justify their intention to remove modern slavery and trafficking support to migrants. Paragraph 35 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill justifies the provisions on modern slavery accordingly:
it is in the interests of the protection of public order in the UK including to prevent persons from evading immigration controls in this country, to reduce or remove incentives for unsafe practices or irregular entry, and to reduce the pressure on public services caused in particular by illegal entry into the UK
The government is here purposefully slippery with its language and logic, conflating the crimes of traffickers with the actions of the victims themselves, thereby justifying its punitive decision to ban certain victims of trafficking and slavery from support and protection.”