Police defend undercover female cop after dealer claimed he was kissed and cuddled during Sunderland drugs sting

Peter Stead
Peter Stead

A police force has defended an undercover female cop after a dealer claimed he was kissed and cuddled during a sting to combat drug suppliers in Sunderland.

Peter Stead said he thought he was "getting into a relationship" with the plain clothes policewoman, who was posing as a crack cocaine user called Jo in Sunderland in December 2015.

Gordon Ellis

Gordon Ellis

Newcastle Crown Court heard serial criminal Stead, 34, who has a long list of convictions and the nickname "Stagger", put the covert cop, who called herself "Stagger's lass", in touch with suppliers who sold her drugs on seven separate occasions.

But Northumbria Police said the officers involved in the case "conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and acted within the confines of their role".

Stead, of Leaholme Road, Hartlepool, admitted conspiracy to supply crack cocaine, shoplifting and breach of an earlier suspended prison sentence and has been jailed for 29 months.

Gordon Ellis, 57, of Fernville Square, Sunderland, who supplied the crack cocaine directly to Jo, as well as other users, on nine occasions, admitted the same charge and has been jailed for five years and seven months.

Lee Halcrow

Lee Halcrow

Judge Stephen Earl said Stead "struck up a relationship" with the undercover officer and that he was a "user rather than a dealer" before he involved himself in the drug conspiracy.

The judge said Ellis, who is a married grandad, poses a low risk to the public but he knew the chance he was taking when he got involved in drugs for a third time.

Ellis, who prosecutors claim has led a "criminal lifestyle", has two previous convictions for supplying class A drugs and has served prison sentences for it in the past.

Prosecutor Mark Guiliani told the court: "Gordon Ellis is an individual who was supplying drugs to those supplying drugs to others and also directly to users."

Mr Guiliani said the police operation was set up to target Class A drug supply in Sunderland.

He added: "As part of that operation, the police deployed an undercover police officer, which has been referred to as Jo, posing as a user and addict of Class A drugs.

"She befriended local users and through them managed to find out who was supplying them with drugs."

Glen Gatland, defending, said Stead was staying at a hostel in Sunderland after the death of his mother, which left him "very distressed".

Mr Gatland said it was while at the hostel, Stead met Jo.

He added: "He was befriended by Jo, who described herself to others as Stagger's lass. Stagger is his nickname.

"She would comfort him. She would kiss him and cuddle him and he thought he was getting into a relationship with her."

Mr Gatland said the undercover officer portrayed emotion to Stead and said to him during one text "You have been really good to me and I know I can trust you. Thank you. Sorry about your mum."

Stead's reply to the undercover officer was "Thanks Jo. You are too nice for this game hun. Too many people out to rip people off."

Mr Gatland said Stead was at a "low point in his life" when he moved to Sunderland and met Jo.

He added: "She asked him, because she knew he was a drug user, if he could get any drugs and so, as is often the case, people in this position try to help one another.

"Especially, as he thought he was getting into a relationship with her, so he did try to help her."

Mr Gatland said the officer agreed Stead, who is now on a methadone programme, could have half of the drugs he was able to obtain for her.

Nicholas Lane, defending Ellis, said the dad and grandfather is in poor health himself and has others in his family, including his wife and father, who he cares for due to their own difficulties.

Mr Lane said Ellis lived on benefits at the time, which he turned to drug dealing to supplement.

He added: "There is no lavish lifestyle, foreign holidays or anything of that sort."

Lee Halcrow, 42, of Beach Road, South Shields, was jailed for one day for being concerned in the supply of the class A drug in relation to helping undercover officer Jo buy drugs on one occasion.

After the case, Northumbria Police said: "Police officers are bound by a professional code of ethics and all officers involved in this case conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and acted within the confines of their role."