Man sentenced for County Lines drug dealing and exploiting child from Wirral

A man has been jailed for more than seven years following an investigation into the exploitation of children and county line drug dealing.

Irakli Balatayev, 21 years, of Coventry appeared at Warwickshire Combined Court on Friday, 15 December, where he was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison for Drug Supply and Modern Day Slavery offences. 

Under Operation Toxic, officers from Merseyside Police carried out an investigation between January and February 2022 into county lines drug dealing in the Leamington Spa area, where it was discovered that Balatayev was using a 15-year-old boy from Wirral to deal drugs for him.

Merseyside Police charged Balatayev with supply of Class A and B drugs, cocaine, heroin, and cannabis, and arranging or facilitating travel of another with a view to exploitation.

At an earlier hearing, he pleaded guilty to these charges. 

Operation Toxic is part of Project Medusa – a Merseyside-led initiative set up to tackle County Lines drug dealing and child criminal exploitation across the country. 

The investigation was in partnership with West Midlands Police and Warwickshire Police.

Detective Sergeant Kieran Connolly of Project Medusa said, “This sentencing ensures that the defendant can no longer exploit children for his own selfish gain.

“Sadly, the child in this case was groomed with cannabis, food and a promise of wages. The level of control went as far as to dictate when the child could shower or eat.

“Text messages sent by Balatayev to the 15-year-old boy contained detailed instructions of how to deal drugs and hide drugs upon his person. While the boy was in Coventry, Balateyev made arrangements for the child to deal from the home of vulnerable people, in a practice widely known as cuckooing. 

“This investigation involved three separate forces which shows once again that regional boundaries are no obstacle in our determination to bring offenders to justice. Project Medusa is dedicated to cutting these County Lines dead, taking those who operate them off our streets and working with partners to help those exploited by these gangs.

“Police, partners and the public are becoming more aware of child exploitation and how to spot the signs. If you have concerns about the exploitation of young or vulnerable people in your community, we are ready to take action. 

“I hope this sentencing sends a message to organised crime gangs – if you exploit and groom children to peddle your misery and deal drugs, we will find you and place you before the courts.”

Vikki McKenna, Service Manager for the Catch22 Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing from Home service said, “A caseworker in our Pan Merseyside team currently supports the young male from Wirral who was groomed and exploited by Balatayez.

“Over the past 18 months, he has already been supported to recognise the signs and indicators of child exploitation. With tailored emotional and practical support, the young male has now moved into employment. Throughout the case, we have worked closely – and will continue to work closely – with our partners to help safeguard him.” 

The Catch22 Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing from Home service is a free and independent service for children and young people who have run away from home, and those who are at risk of, or affected by exploitation. Upon referral, a caseworker will be allocated to complete the one-to-one work. Our support is trauma-informed and we tailor the duration and type of intervention depending on the needs and risks of the child.

You can call Catch22 on 07979 241502 or email vikki.mckenna@catch-22.org.uk  for more information if you think a child might be at risk. For more general information about the service, please visit: Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing from Home | Catch22 (catch-22.org.uk)  

Read more here about how to spot the signs of exploitation linked to drug dealing and the
Eyes Open campaign: Eyes Open | Merseyside Police

You can also report any concerns to police on 999 if a crime is in progress, via 101, or via Twitter @MerPolCC.

You can also pass information via the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or via their online form at: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/

Image: Irakli Balatayev/Merseyside Police

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