A NORTHWICH couple have been jailed after one was filmed topping up a county lines drug gang’s ‘graft phone’ on CCTV.

Jonathan Weedall and Karen Hazelden, both of Station Road, were arrested at home after a raid by Northwich police on January 26, 2022.

Officers were acting on information from Merseyside colleagues about a pay-as-you-go ‘graft phone’ being used by a county lines drug gang to advertise heroin and crack cocaine for sale in Northwich.

The phone was topped up at Tesco on Manchester Road on December 12, and after recovering CCTV footage from the store, officers identified Weedall as the culprit.

Police found no drugs at their home, but they found the graft phone and two others, which all contained evidence of drug dealing.

This included messages from another local drug dealer, Ryan Bailey, of Austin Street in Lostock Gralam, who has since pleaded guilty to drug dealing and was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2022.

At interview, Weedall, 36, admitted topping up the graft phone but said he was doing it for someone else, and also admitted one of the other phones containing drug-related messages was his.

Hazelden, 43, gave only ‘no comment’ responses.

The pair were charged with two counts each of being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine, but as neither admitted all charges, the case was sent to trial.

However, at a pre-trial preparation hearing at Chester Crown Court on May 5, both admitted all charges.

The couple appeared at Liverpool Crown Court today (November 15) for sentencing.

Counsel for the prosecution, Anna Price, told the court Weedall has three convictions for six offences between 2009 and 2020, including one of possession of cocaine.

Hazelden has 13 convictions for 27 offences between 2000 and 2022, which include drug dealing, theft, burglary, and battery.

Defending Weedall, Stella Hayden said her client is a long-term class A drug addict, but he has ‘taken steps to address his addiction since the offences, and turned his life around’.

She added he ‘is now in a significantly different position’, as he is on a methadone programme, working as a roofer, and along with Hazelden, has saved £1,000 for a rental deposit on a home.

She added: “My client has lived for 30 years without troubling the courts, but due to his addiction, he made himself vulnerable to a degree of pressure which led to him becoming involved in this county lines drug operation.”

Defending Hazelden, Kyra Badman said her client was also a habitual class A drug user but had also made ‘significant strides’, having got a job as a pub cleaner, and contributing to their house deposit.

She added: “My client performed a limited function in this operation, under direct supervision, and with very limited personal financial advantage – only two wraps of drugs a day. No money changed hands.”

Passing sentence, Mr Recorder Mark Ainsworth said: “This is a story we’ve heard countless times.

“People who would otherwise thrive and conduct rewarding, law abiding lives, turn to drugs, find themselves in debt, and become embroiled in this evil trade.

“As such, it may be argued you played a lesser role in this drugs operation, but you had possession of the graft phone, which is the hub.

“It is therefore difficult to depart from the conclusion that you played a significant role.”

Taking their guilty pleas into account, Mr Recorder Ainsworth sentenced both to two years, eight months in prison.   

He also ordered them to pay a victim surcharge and placed a deprivation order on the three phones.  

After the sentencing, Police Constable Adam Cupples, of Northwich Proactive Unit, said: “This case is a great example of partnership work between forces.

“As soon as we received the intelligence that the mobile phone was being used as part of county lines criminal activity, we were quickly able to identify the owners through the CCTV footage, leading to the prompt arrest of Weedall and Hazelden.

“Following our subsequent investigation, we were able to prove that the pair were both involved in drug dealing in the Northwich area, and the pair have both been put behind bars.”