A TEENAGER was groomed by a notorious Swindon drug gang from the age of 12, a court heard.

Ewan Burrows, now 18, was said to have “slipped through the net” although concerns about his vulnerabilities were raised at the time. Now, all youths associated with the Eldene drugs network now automatically referred to a government body as potential victims of modern-day slavery.

But after learning that the teenager already had convictions for dealing crack and heroin as a youth and was given a community order last year for dealing cannabis, Judge Jason Taylor QC warned him he was skating on thin ice. A further conviction for supplying class A drugs would put him at risk of a seven year minimum jail sentence.

Sending Burrows to prison for four years and two months, the judge said: “When you were under-18 in all probability you were taken advantage of and back then, sadly, the National Referral Mechanism [flagging victims of modern slavery] wasn’t up and running to the extent that it is now and there are elements of vulnerability in you that others probably took advantage of.

“I am encouraged now you are using your time in prison constructively.

“The upshot is simply this: you need to grow up now and start taking responsibility and my fear is that if you don’t you will be back here again for drug offences and next time you will be facing a minimum sentence of seven years. Do you understand that?

“You are skating on thin ice, so you need to use this time now in prison to make a break from your previous lifestyle and put in place the skills that will enable you to resist the influences of others upon your release.”

Prosecutor Unyime Davies told the court that Burrows had been in control of two Eldene drugs line phone numbers, both used to send bulk text messages to would-be customers advertising deals like three wraps of crack or heroin for £20.

One of those numbers was linked to an Alcatel mobile phone seized from the teenager last December when he was stopped and searched after police received reports of suspicious activity. Burrows had initially attempted to run from the officers.

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Ewan Burrows' police custody shot Picture: WILTSHIRE POLICE

CCTV footage showed the young man topping up the two drug line numbers. The court heard that, unlike some gangs, the homegrown “Eldene” network used multiple telephone numbers linked to phones given to a number of young dealers who were resupplied with drugs on a regular basis. That allowed the gang to more easily recover if one of the phones was seized by the police.  

Police raided Burrows’ parents’ home in Upper Stratton on February 24. In the sock drawer in his bedroom, officers found almost 80g of cannabis, 18 wraps of heroin and £470 cash.

Mitigating, Emma Handslip said her client had been groomed from the age of 12 or 13. In his teenage years he was coming home with marks on him and a number of agencies had raised concerns “there were things going on that he wasn’t prepared to impart”.

Burrows was just 16 when he was first convicted for supplying class A drugs. Although now, youths said to be involved in the Eldene line were automatically referred to the Home Office as potential victims of modern slavery, that wasn’t the process when Burrows was initially picked up.

He bitterly regretted his involvement in drug dealing. Ms Handslip said he had the skills to turn his life around and, while on remand, had obtained a prison job and was on the way to becoming an enhanced prisoner.

Burrows, formerly of Green Road, Upper Stratton, but appearing in court via video link from HMP Bullingdon, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to being concerned in the supply of class A drugs, possession with intent to supply cannabis and possession of criminal property.

Judge Taylor ruled the cash and drugs were forfeit. A community order imposed last year for cannabis dealing was revoked and Burrows was resentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, to run alongside his four year and two month sentence for selling heroin and crack cocaine.

Reacting to the sentence, PC Craig Head of Wiltshire Police said: “These drug dealing lines bring about a huge amount of harm to our communities.

“Not only are they dealing harmful and illegal drugs to vulnerable people, but there is also the associated violence, anti-social behaviour and exploitation which comes with it.

“We are committed to cracking down on this type of activity and we want our communities to feel reassured that we are working hard to arrest offenders and get these drugs off our streets.”