Eight east London men convicted after art campaign protesting drug dealing

Artists calling themselves the Columbia Road Cartel painted parody road markings to protest drug act

Artists calling themselves the Columbia Road Cartel painted parody road markings to protest drug activity in the area. Picture: Columbia Tenants and Residents Association - Credit: Columbia Tenants and Residents A

Eight more drug dealers from Tower Hamlets and Newham have been jailed following a campaign from the anonymous artists the Columbia Road Cartel.

Top, left to right: Julian Haynes, Luke Gratton, Brendan Vickers, Kevin Tighe. Bottom, left to right

Top, left to right: Julian Haynes, Luke Gratton, Brendan Vickers, Kevin Tighe. Bottom, left to right: Kenneth Gratton, Craig Furlong, Rukon Ahmed, Dilraj Miah. All of them have been convicted of drug dealing offences. Picture: CPS. - Credit: CPS

The campaign led to a police investigation that's now seen more than 20 people convicted for running drugs operations.

People living in and around Columbia Road protested the level of drug dealing in their neighbourhood in September 2018 with parody signs for things like "crack pick-up points" and parking bays for "drug dealers only". The campaign got national attention.

Police discovered four drugs phone lines in the area, leading to four separate prosecutions. On November 15 and November 18, most of those involved in the fourth and final prosecution were sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

"Dealing drugs such as heroin can have devastating consequences for vulnerable people and local communities," said Jonathan Shepherd, a senior Crown prosecutor. "These defendants showed little consideration for those around them - often openly dealing drugs in the day in front of young children and encouraging aggressive drug users to loiter in the area.

A sign part of the anti-drugs street art campaign in Bethnal Green launched by anonymous artists. Pi

A sign part of the anti-drugs street art campaign in Bethnal Green launched by anonymous artists. Picture: Columbia Tenants and Residents Association - Credit: Columbia Tenants and Residents A


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"These prosecutions aimed to take down the operational and managerial functions of these organised drug dealing groups, in order to reduce anti-social behaviour for this affected community.

"These successful prosecutions show that the Crown Prosecution Service takes drug dealing extremely seriously and will bring offenders to court to face justice."

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The drug dealers used a pre-paid and unregistered phone line to run their operation. Call activity peaked between 5pm and 2am - most calls were under 20 seconds. The Crown Prosecution Service said that activity is consistent with calls to order drugs and organise meetings with dealers.

Weavers Community Action Group - a group of residents a business owners - led the campaign to draw attention to the drugs problem around Columbia Road. It's said it's behind the Columbia Road Cartel, though the names of the people in the cartel are still a mystery.

It said in a statement that action from the police and the council after the art campaign was "impressive" : "It shows how a strong local community can achieve real results and bring about positive change to our streets.

"We would like to thank the police and CPS for their determination in bringing about these convictions and sentences. We have seen a positive change on our streets as a result, though we are aware the social problems surrounding drug misuse won't have disappeared.

"We will continue to work with residents and the authorities to understand issues and suggest solutions, most recently highlighting other problems we face as residents living adjacent to a growing night economy."

Eight men were convicted as a result of the police's investigation.

Julian Haynes, 33, and Luke Gratton, 30, both from Bethnal Green, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and were sentenced to four years in prison.

Brendan Vickers, 26, was arrested at his home in Bethnal Green, where officers found 100 wraps of crack cocaine and heroin on his living room table. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and two counts of possessing a controlled Class A drug with intent. He was sentenced to three years.

Forest Gate's Rukon Ahmed, 29, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and two counts of possessing a controlled Class A drug with intent. He was jailed for three years.

After pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, Spitalfields' Dilraj Miah, 29, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Jurors found Bethnal Green's Kevin Tighe, 49, guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs after a trial. He was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years.

Bow's Kenneth Gratton, 56, was found guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs following a trial. He was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years.

Craig Furlong, 31, from Bethnal Green, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. His sentencing has been deferred to April 3, 2020.

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