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Operation Elegant: Eight sentenced to 40 years after police break up drugs gang

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EIGHT people have been jailed as part of an organised crime gang which trafficked cocaine worth almost £200,000 into Llanelli over a five-month period.

Dyfed-Powys Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Team dismantled the gang which was transporting the class ‘A’ drug between Swansea, Pontarddulais and Llanelli in a covert operation named ‘Operation Elegant’.

The operation resulted in more than 2kg of cocaine being supplied by the gang.

Nine defendants, including one who will be sentenced at a later date, admitted their involvement in the conspiracy to supply cocaine between May and October 2020. The eight sentenced so far have  been jailed for a total of 40 years.

Detective Constable Mark Jones, Op Elegant lead officer, said: “This was a lengthy operation involving a number of departments across the force, who investigated intelligence, coordinated a series of warrants, interviewed the defendants and carried out detailed enquiries into their activity.

“Today’s sentencing culminates more than a year of police work, which saw the disruption of a major supply chain into Llanelli and the dismantling of an organised crime gang, which was no doubt linked to illegal behaviour on a wider scale.”

DC Jones explained that the Llanelli gang was headed up by 27-year-old Shaun Hearne, who put together a team of trusted associates to move, store, prepare and distribute cocaine throughout Llanelli.

When restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the availability of the drug, Hearne was not deterred, and approached 25-year-old Aaron Hookway, a Swansea dealer, to source it.

This proved successful, as enquiries revealed the gang bought drugs from upstream supplier Hookway on 13 occasions, using 36-year-old Rebecca Viola’s home in Felinfoel as a stash house to store the commodity.

From there, couriers and sub-dealers Laura Coelho, Neville Ayres, Jordan Dale Parry, Keiran Price and Daniel Rhodri Evans were responsible for distributing the drugs.

“Through our investigation, we discovered that the gang was made up of a number of people acting as couriers and sub-dealers in various areas across Llanelli, directed by Hearne,” DC Jones said.

“Our first step in disrupting their activity was in stopping a car driven by Neville Ayres on 1st September, 2020, during which uniformed officers seized 10 ounces of cocaine.

“Ayres was a trusted employee of Hearne, who had such a blasé attitude towards his illegal behaviour that he had this huge amount of cocaine – worth more than £22,000 – in plain sight in the footwell of his car”.

“Despite this upset, the gang continued with their activity for another month, when we targeted all members with 15 warrants carried out across Llanelli.”

The week-long enforcement phase saw 13 people arrested, with searches also carried out at homes in Swansea, Ceredigion and Cornwall.

Nine of those arrested were charged with being involved in a conspiracy to supply cocaine. All nine admitted the offence, and eight of them received the following sentences on Monday 6th September 2021 and Tuesday 7th September 2021 at Swansea Crown Court:

  • Head of Llanelli gang Shaun Hearne, aged 27, of Isgraig, Burry Port: 8 years 8 months.
  • Swansea ‘upstream’ dealer Aaron Hookway, aged 25, of Station Road, Fforestfach: 9 years.
  • Courier and Hearne’s partner Laura Coelho, aged 28, of Bond Avenue, Llanelli: 2 years 5 months.
  • Llanelli courier and sub-dealer Neville Ayres, aged 42, of West End, Llanelli: 4 years 9 months.
  • Felinfoel storage and sub-dealer Rebecca Viola, aged 36, of Cae Glas, Llanelli: 4 years.
  • Llanelli sub-dealer Jordan Dale Parry, aged 25, of Dilwyn Street, Llanelli: 3 years 4 months.
  • Llanelli courier Keiran Price, aged 28, of Tirgoff, Llangennech: 4 years 10 months.
  • Llwynhendy sub-dealer Daniel Rhodri Evans, aged 29, of Heol Elfed, Llanelli: 3 years.

The ninth, Llanelli courier Jeffrey Parker-Ward, aged 23, of Stepney Street, will be sentenced at a later date.

As part of the operation, a number of high-value vehicles were seized, along with £11,000 in cash.

Further work is now being carried out as part of a proceeds of crime act investigation, aimed at confiscating criminal assets gained through illegal activities.

“The sentences of a total of 40 years in prison is a testament to the work that was put into this investigation,” DC Jones said.

“Not only have we taken a substantial amount of cocaine out of the supply chain, but we have disrupted the supply into Llanelli, where it would have caused an untold amount of harm to the community.

“I would like to thank all officers involved for their hard work, determination and commitment with HH Judge Rees commenting that the investigation was commendably executed. I would like to reassure the public that we will continue to act on all concerns over drugs use and abuse.”

BCU Commander for Carmarthenshire Gary Phillips said: “The sentences handed out at Swansea Crown Court are not only a reflection of the significant effort that has been put into this police investigation, but they also send a clear message that being involved in serious and organised crime in Carmarthenshire will ultimately lead to you being targeted by police and put before the courts.”

To report suspicious behaviour in your community, visit https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, email 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or call 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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Wales completes move to alert level 0

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THE MOVE completes the Welsh Government’s phased lifting of the alert level 2 protections, which were put in place on Boxing Day to keep Wales safe as the omicron wave swept across the country.

Some important protections will remain in place at alert level 0, including mandatory face coverings in most indoor public places, including on public transport.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the relaxation of protections was possible thanks to the hard work of everyone in Wales and the success of the vaccination programme – more than 1.8 million booster doses have been given.

And, since the start of December, more than 36,000 people have come forward to have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We have passed the peak of this omicron wave and there are encouraging signs that cases of coronavirus may be starting to stabilise. But we all need to continue taking steps to stay safe – unfortunately the pandemic is not over yet.

“We are moving to alert level 0 and we will retain some important protections, such as face coverings in most indoor public places and risk assessments.

“We can do this thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone in Wales and the remarkable success of our vaccine and booster programmes. Thank you all.”

On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level 0. This means:

  • Nightclubs can re-open.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details. The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
  • Working from home will remain important but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus, which may include 2m social distancing or controlled entry.

Face-covering rules, which apply on public transport and in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes and nightclubs.

Everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus but the Welsh Government has reduced the self-isolation period from seven to 5 full days.

People are advised to take 2 negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart on days 5 and 6. The self-isolation support scheme payment will return to the original rate of £500 for all those who are eligible.

The next 3-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10 February, when all the measures at alert level 0 will be reviewed.

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Police investigating suspicious fire at Vodafone mast tower in Llanelli

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE are investigating a fire which caused significant damage to a service room at the Vodafone mast tower in Bigyn Road, Llanelli.  

The fire, which is being treated as suspicious, happened sometime between 10pm on Monday 24th and 2.30am on Tuesday 25th January 2022.

No-one was injured in the fire.

Anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation, or anyone who has CCTV or dash cam footage of the area at the time. is asked to report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Quote reference: DP-20220125-075.

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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Denial of Wales-specific Covid inquiry ‘no longer tenable’ say Welsh Conservatives

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their call for an inquiry that focuses exclusively on the actions of the Welsh Government in tackling coronavirus in a letter to the First Minister.

It was prompted after it was revealed that the Welsh Government have been aware that NHS Wales was not prepared for an airborne virus as far back as 2004, following the SARS outbreak. Despite committing to an audit and allocation to rectify the lack of isolation facilities, this did not materialise.

The letter from Andrew RT Davies MS, which states “decision made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales” follows a weekend when Mark Drakeford was keen to highlight that his government had “always taken a different approach in Wales [compared to the British Government], one that does things step-by-step”.

Concerned: Andrew RT Davies

In the letter, the Welsh Conservatives leader questions why, despite him stressing divergences in the approach to coronavirus, the First Minister still feels it “inappropriate to separate” from the British Government “when the time comes for accountability”.

The Labour Government policy is for its actions to be included in the UK-wide inquiry that will chiefly investigate the actions of the Conservative Government. There will be a Scotland-specific inquiry after Nicola Sturgeon commissioned one.

Joining the Welsh Conservatives in their calls for a Wales-specific inquiry are the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.

Commenting on the letter, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The position of exercising wide-ranging emergency powers that curtailed the liberty and closed the economy of the Welsh people but avoiding accountability through an inquiry that focusses on how those decisions were made is no longer tenable.

“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant.

“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.

“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.

“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”

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