Members of Preston gang responsible for child rapes, drug dealing and burglaries sentenced

Two drug criminals who raped two vulnerable schoolgirls have been given lengthy jail terms.

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 5:00 pm

The group committed a catalogue of criminal offences, including dealing in illicit drugs and grooming young girls who became "embroiled and bound up in their extensive criminal enterprise".

Ringleader Ben Thompson, 32, of Ash Grove, Preston, set up a drug distribution business, recruiting other men who were "vulnerable to influence" and willing to go along with the plot.

Preston Crown Court heard they spread their criminal activities further afield – luring the company of vulnerable females who "succumbed to the attraction of either the individual defendants or the rewards that were freely available to them as followers of this gang" – alcohol, drugs, gifts and the promise of paid work.

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The court case has been subject to reporting restrictions until now

Prosecuting, Richard Haworth said: "Running alongside the drug dealing was the sexual corruption of the female complainants in this case. All groomed, and subjected to a pattern of sexual activity orchestrated by Thompson and Anderson.

"Their victims did not enter into the activity with willingness. They were plied with drugs – ketamine - which had the effect of rendering them unable to have any form of self control or consciousness over what was happening to them. They were rendered helpless."

Thompson denied rape but was found guilty after a trial and is starting a 21 year and nine month sentence.

Co-defendant Mark Anderson, 30, of Bay View Grove, Barrow in Furness, was convicted of two rapes and will serve 21 years and seven months.

Lancashire Police were praised for Operation Tigris

The first victim, 15, had consumed vodka, wine and drugs, before being told she had been "given things"and now it was her turn to pay them back.

She was raped by Anderson and then by Thompson - but the terrified teenager bravely fought off Thompson by biting his genitals.

Anderson also raped a second 15-year-old who had blacked out from drug use - watched by other people present who "saw and found it amusing".

The court heard she woke to him "using her like a rag doll".

The case, dubbed Operation Tigris by police, has been subject to reporting restrictions until now.

Judge Andrew Jefferies QC, sentencing, said: "This case has revealed a number of moral and societal ills and problems concerning drug use and young men’s attitudes to sex; not just in those convicted of sexual offences.

"The evidence has shown that you share a cavalier attitude towards women. You used drugs to exploit and subdue. There was a marked age difference between you and your victims.

"Sadly, these problems will persist for as long as society blames young women for what happens to them rather than instilling in men a sense of responsibility for how they behave towards women.

"Society, and in particular us men in it, should not have to be constantly warning women to protect themselves from unscrupulous men; rather we should all be educating boys and men not to abuse and take advantage of girls and women."

The duo and their four co-defendants operated from two premises in Preston, selling heroin, cocaine, MDMA, cannabis and ketamine.

Texts were sent out in blocks of up to 70 recipients, sometimes daily, over a year.

The defendants dealt with large sums of £10,000 to £12,000 during trips to Liverpool, Blackpool, Barrow and elsewhere.

When Lancashire Police made arrests, they seized 128 grams of MDMA, 435 grams of ketamine, 47 grams of cocaine, 15 grams of heroin and 500 grams of cannabis, with plants estimated to yield a further kilo.

The judge told Thompson, who has previous convictions for producing cannabis, had a leading role with the involvement and recruitment of others, and directed the buying and selling on commercial scale.

He supplied and exposed young girls to ketamine.

Anderson was like his right hand man, sending block texts.

Joseph Duerdon, 20, of Mill Court, Longridge, was described as the "wheels of the operation", chauffeuring others in his Vauxhall Corsa.

He was involved in drug supply at street level and with another defendant cultivated cannabis.

Dealer Jordan Byrne, 20, of Raglan Street, Preston, was arrested in Duerdon's car with drugs and mobile phones containing a large amount of drug related messages.

Alex McNeil, 18, of The Green, Ribbleton, was involved in the operation for only one week, the court heard, lured by the perceived excitement of cheap or free drugs and cash.

He bagged up drugs and was a user and occasional supplier of cannabis to friends.

Thomas Worgan, 37, of Walton Avenue, Penwortham, was astreet dealer and cultivator, abstracting electricity and setting up grows at his home and at an address on New Hall Lane.

In addition to the drugs and sexual offences, around the same period, Thompson, Anderson and Duerdon, used cloned vehicles and disguises to commit a string of thefts and burglaries in rural areas of Preston, and in Leyland.

Thompson and Anderson admitted 12 and Duerdon five.

The court heard each was at night, sometimes including sophisticated oxy-acetylene cutting equipment, and causing serious financial harm to the local small businesses they targeted.

Some offences were related to the drugs conspiracy – such as the theft of fertiliser and equipment but drink and cigarettes were also stolen.

Thompson and Anderson caused more than £100,000 damage throughout their spree.

Judge Jefferies ordered Thompson and Anderson to be subject to the Sex Offender's Register and barring requirements for life, and ordered the forfeiture and destruction of phones, drugs and paraphernalia, cash and a stun gun.

He also made deprivation orders for a Vauxhall Zafira, Ford Maverick and two vans.

He added: " The wide use and the terrible effects of ketamine are probably not as widely known as they should be – the descriptions given in evidence of being in a “Ket hole” by both witnesses and Mr MacNeil were not easy to hear.

"The use of that drug creates a complete failure to be able to exercise any self-control and renders the user helpless.

"Some people argue that drugs and drug use is harmless. This case has shown that drugs do ruin peoples’ lives – the users of drugs, those who sell the drugs and the families, children, parents and partners of both."