A drug dealer who ran distribution networks in Chagford, Crediton and Exmouth has been jailed for nine years.


Richard Armitage obtained tens of thousands of pounds worth of cocaine from two large scale County Line dealers from London and organised their sale over a large area.


He went back into the drugs business despite having served long jail sentences for two previous drugs conspiracies. He even carried on contacting local dealers on two secret phones after he had been caught and sent back to prison.


Armitage rented a property in Lower Street, Chagford, to use as a central point where street dealers could pick up supplies and he also took delivery of a large consignment at a house in Molyneux Drive, Crediton, when roadworks prevented him reaching it.


Both meetings were observed by police who were monitoring major London-based dealers Adi Lleshi and Mark Vasija, aged 27 and 42 in October 2019. Vasija was arrested while in the process of exchanging £160,000 worth of cocaine for cash in Bristol a few days later.


Armitage, aged 42, of Lower Street, Chagford, and previously from Exeter, admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine and breach of a Serious Crime Prevention Order and was jailed for a total of nine years by Judge Stephen Climie at Exeter Crown Court.


He told him: “Yours was one of the West Country hubs of a County Lines operation run by Lleshi and Vasija. These offences are set against your history of having committed like offences in the past.”


Miss Felicity Payne, prosecuting, said Armitage was known to have received large shipments of cocaine from Lleshi and Vasija at Chagford on October 4, 2019 and Crediton on October 27, 2019.


She said he had rented the property in Chagford to use as a ‘safe house’ where dealers who were lower down the chain of supply could pick up cocaine for distribution across areas including Mid, South and East Devon.


Lleshi and Vasija were also involved in supplying dealers in Brixham, Plymouth and Newlyn and the total amount of cocaine sold in both conspiracies was at least 17 kilograms with a street value of £600,000.


She said Armitage was in jail for an earlier breach of a Serious Crime Prevention Order, in which he had tried to flee the country via Exeter Airport, when he breached it again by having miniature mobile phones in his cell.


They contained no metal parts and so could be smuggled into jails including Exeter and Guy’s Marsh, and one was mainly to call his partner while the other was used almost exclusively to call other contacts, many of who have links to drug trafficking.


The two phones were found hidden in a light fitting in his cell in April 2022 and warders also found a third Sim car hidden in the base of a kettle.


Mr Rupert Russell, defending, said Armitage rented the house in Chudleigh to house two friends rather than solely for drug dealing. He said he had only played a small part in a much larger conspiracy.


He said Armitage was not the only person who used the secret phones while in prison and that many of the thousands of calls made on them were sent by other inmates.