A LONDON-based drug dealer who trafficked a 15-year-old boy to Weston-super-Mare to exploit him as a drug runner has been jailed.

Emad El-Haddad, 22, of Gloucester Terrace, Westminster, was sent down for seven years and two months when he appeared at Taunton Crown Court yesterday (Thursday).

El-Haddad admitted possessing crack cocaine and heroin with intent to supply and arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploit.

He is also subject to a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act and a 10-year Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order.

The terms of the order include strict conditions on his access to a mobile phone, prevent him from arranging travel or accommodation for any person under the age of 18 except for immediate family members and bar him from travelling to the Avon and Somerset policing area.

The investigation was carried out jointly by officers from Operation Orochi, the Metropolitan Police Service’s specialist crime team dedicated to tackling high harm offenders involved in county lines drugs supply, and Avon and Somerset Police’s equivalent Operation Remedy.

The investigation began on January 8 when the teenager was reported missing from his London home.

Joint enquiries by the Met and Avon and Somerset Police led to the boy being found in Weston-super-Mare on eight days later in possession of crack cocaine and heroin with a street value of £2,000.

The drugs were in packages concealed in his underpants and he also had a phone and coach tickets.

Forensic investigation established that El-Haddad had handled the drugs recovered from the child.

El-Haddad was arrested from his home later the same day. Various mobile phones found at his address included one known as the 'Reece' line, used to advertise drugs to users based in Weston-super-Mare.

Detectives also found evidence showing he had arranged accommodation for the boy, directed his activities as a drug runner and would not let him contact his family in case it alerted the police.

Further investigation established that the child had been exploited as a drugs runner several times before, including over the Christmas 2020 period into the New Year.

On each occasion El-Haddad had taken him to Victoria Coach Station and bought his ticket to Weston-super-Mare.

Joshua Weldon, Avon and Somerset Police's designated investigating officer in the case, said officers work closely with partners to tackle the county lines drug trade. In county lines children are trafficked and forced to live in with strangers, far from home and cut off from family and friends, while vulnerable adults’ homes are taken over. It causes misery to families and knock-on effects of crime and anti-social behaviour in our communities.

He added: "Exploiting children to sell drugs is despicable. It puts children at risk and causes heartache for families and carers who fear the worst when their child goes missing. El-Haddad had to admit his guilt due to the weight of evidence against him thanks to the close collaboration between our two police services.

“We welcome the court’s decision to impose a 10-year Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order in this case. El-Haddad must not be allowed to put any other child at risk for his dirty profit. The court has also accepted an application under the Proceeds of Crime Act which means that El-Haddad must forfeit any assets he can’t account for up to £2,400, based on the value of the drugs seized.”

Detective Constable Ben Baker, the investigating officer from the Met, said: “El-Haddad has exploited this young and vulnerable boy to facilitate his drug supply. This sentence highlights our ability to pursue those involved with exploiting children for drug supply, irrespective of whether a victim assists the police or not. We hope this case will discourage future gangs from using children as drugs runners by showing it isn’t any barrier to their prosecution.

“Offenders like him hope that by using vulnerable children as drugs runners they will shield themselves from identification and prosecution by law enforcement, because frequently these exploited persons are too scared to assist police.”

If you have any concerns about drug crime or for the welfare of a vulnerable person you can call 101, report online through the force's dedicated county lines and cuckooing webpage, or contact your neighbourhood team.

If you don’t want to speak to the police, call the independent charity Crimestoppers 100 per cent anonymously on 0800 555 111. They never reveal to police who you are, just what you know.