TWO men have been jailed for a total of more than 11 years, and two others have received suspended sentences, for their roles in a plot to 'saturate' the streets of Gwent with cocaine.

Ringleader Kyle Bush, 26, of Monnow Walk, Bettws, Newport; his 'lieutenant' Joseph Burnapp, 23, of Commercial Street, Pontypool; along with Thomas Price, 25, also of Commercial Street, Pontypool; and Kaeron Barnett, 32, of Backhall Street, Caerleon; were caught following a painstaking Gwent Police investigation - called Operation Empire - which lasted more than seven months.

A sentencing hearing at Newport Crown Court was told by prosecuting counsel Nigel Fryer that the investigation was into the supply of cocaine in the city, and the conspiracy uncovered was a "sophisticated commercial operation".

A key part of it involved an undercover officer who built up contacts with the suppliers, and during the course of the operation bought cocaine from them on seven occasions, with the amounts - and the money exchanged - increasing gradually.

A number of undercover officers, telephone analysis and other surveillance methods were used.

In May last year, the undercover officer had rented a storage container in a yard off St Stephen's Road in Pill, and began to observe men linked to a yard and garage off nearby Mill Parade.

During May-September 2018 he "ingratiated" himself with Barnett, said Mr Fryer, and then sought to become more involved. He asked Barnett to accompany him to Strensham services on the M5 motorway in Worcestershire where he said he had to take some money.

On the way, he hinted he was going to exchange the money with others for illicit goods.

At Strensham, unknown to Barnett, the money was handed over to other undercover officers, and the officer who had befriended Barnett "alluded to his own criminality", said Mr Fryer. Barnett had remained "tight lipped".

The officer subsequently asked him how he found the police presence in the Mill Parade area, and Barnett, who let slip during his reply that "several of the lads who used the garage (run by Barnett) were up to all sorts".

The officer then rented a container in Mill Parade and in mid-September asked Barnett if he knew anyone who could provide him with 'sniff' (cocaine) for the weekend. Barnett said he did and gave him a telephone number.


What followed were seven transactions of drugs and cash - beginning last September with two exchanges of three half-gram bags of cocaine for £30 each, and ending on May 1 this year with one for two kilograms of the drug for £36,500.

These took place in Newport, mainly in the Mill Parade area, with ringleader Bush increasingly involved with the officer. Burnapp acted as his second in command, or "lieutenant", said Mr Fryer.

Price's role was limited to delivering one of the packages of cocaine to the officer, and Barnett - who ran the garage in Mill Parade - in providing the telephone number for the officer to make contact with the suppliers, was the unwitting "gateway" for the police.

The purity of the cocaine exchanged was largely very high, ranging from 77-81 per cent.

The men were arrested after the final aforementioned deal on May 1.

Bush and Burnapp pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to supply Class A drugs, Price to a charge of supply a Class A drug, and Barnett to offering to supply and Class A drug.

Defending Bush, Sue Ferrier told the court he had been "bragging" to the officer about his activities. He had indicated his remorse and accepted his responsibility for his offending.

Defending Burnapp, Be Waters said he did not direct or organise the buying and selling. He was remorseful, apologises for his offending, "and will not be troubling the courts again".

Price, in handing over cocaine to the undercover officer on one occasion "made what is undoubtedly the biggest mistake of his life", and had "found the taste of custody extremely bitter",said defence counsel Stuart John.

Judge Jeremy Jenkins handed down prison sentences of six years to Bush, and five years and four months to Burnapp.

Price was initially given a prison sentence of two years and three months, but this was amended at a later hearing to one of two years in prison, suspended for 18 months. He must also carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

Barnett was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,000 court costs.

Judge Jenkins said the purity of the cocaine means that Bush, who was in charge, was "very close to the original supply".

Had the police operation not been successful, he said, "You would, I am sure, have been responsible for saturating the streets of Gwent with class A drugs".