A knife crime victim has been cleared of dealing drugs in East Devon after telling a jury that he was bullied into drug dealing by violent North London gangsters.

Kaarlo Wicks acted as courier carrying drugs to an addict’s home in Ottery St Mary which was used as a base for heroin and crack dealing in late 2019 and early 2020.

He made three trips in which he carried drugs to Devon and returned with cash but told a jury at Exeter Crown Court that he only did so because he feared for his own safety and that of his family.

He said he was forced to sell drugs by a mystery gang leader who he knew only as S who had used two heavies to grab him off the street in revenge for him not telling him how to find a friend who owed a drug debt.

Wicks went on to suffer very serious abdominal wounds during an attack near his home in Hackney in October 2020, nine months after he was arrested in Devon with the resulting loss of £4,400 worth of drugs which were seized by police.

He told the jury he believed he was stabbed because he was granted bail while two other young men from the same estate who were arrested a month later in Axminster were held in custody, leading to a mistaken suspicion that he had cooperated with the police.

He said he feared not only for his own safety but also for that of his family in London when he took part in the drugs trips to Devon. His older sister had died in tragic circumstances and the rest of his family were moved away for their own safety after his stabbing.

Wicks, aged 22, of Hackney, North London, was found not guilty of conspiracy to supply class A drugs and was discharged by Judge Anna Richardson.

The other four people who were arrested in the same operation all pleaded guilty.

They are Nathan Ross, aged 39, of Beer; Imad Talbi and Umit Tutal, both aged 22, and from London, who all admitted conspiracy to supply heroin and crack cocaine and Gemma Small, aged 47, of Mossop Close, Ottery St Mary, who admitted allowing her premises to be used for the supply the drugs.

Mr Daniel Pawson-Pounds, prosecuting, said the group ran a County Lines drug supply operation using the street name Doctor to advertise to users.

They used two different phone lines, both known as Doctor lines, and Wicks, Talbi and Tutal made regular trips from London to East Devon to restock.

Wicks was arrested alongside Ross and Small when police raided her home in Ottery St Mary in January 2020. Talbi and Tutal were arrested in Axminster in February 2020.

Wicks was found with a Nokia and an Alcatel phone, and 122 wraps of crack cocaine with a street value of £2,820 were seized from his black Uniqlo jacket alongside a single wrap containing £1,600 worth of heroin.

Another two wraps of crack with a value of £70 were found in an Astra car parked outside which had paperwork inside that linked it to Wicks.

Wicks told the jury that he was stopped in the street by three men, one of whom was a drug dealer called S, in November 2019 and asked to reveal the whereabout of Talbi, who owed S money.

He said he lied to the men about not being in contact with his friend Talbi but was caught out when they seized his phone and saw they were in text contact. He was then bundled into a car, slapped, and driven to the nearby address of someone he knew only as Dreads.

He said he was ordered to hide drugs inside his body and accompany Dreads as he drove to Ottery St Mary where they were removed and readied for street dealing.

Wicks said he may have helped the others to deal drugs but only did so because he was living in fear of S and worried about the safety of his family back in London. He said he was ‘shocked and scared’ when first approached and remained terrified throughout.

He said he almost died after suffering multiple stab wounds to his chest and abdomen on October 20, 2020, and had remained unconscious in hospital for more than a week. He had 38 staples inserted to close his wounds and a doctor told him he had not been expected to pull through.