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EXCLUSIVE: 'County lines' drug dealing has been happening for years but not all police recog

County lines boss Mohamed Hassan, 36, got 16 years jail in 2014 for dealing in Basildon (Essex Police)

COUNTY lines drug dealing has been going on for several years, but not all police forces recognised the problem, we can reveal.

Most media are reporting the menace - which sees city drug gangs send children and vulnerable adults to market and coastal towns to sell to addicts - is something that has sprung up over the last three years, but it has simply intensified.

Yet, Somalian drug dealing gangs from London were taking over the flats and houses of drug addicts in Basildon and Southend, in Essex, nearly ten years ago.

The Southend Echo reported on a crime wave brought to the seaside resort by Somali men from London from 2010.

BUSTED: Southend Police were raiding county lines gangs in 2010 (NCA)

They took over addicts' flats in a notorious tower block estate and were making up to £2,500 a day, it was reported.

Det Sgt Richard Burgess, of Southend Police said at the time: “We established the Somali men were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in two shifts.

“The drug packages were coming in from London and deposited by unknown individuals in an alleyway or a bush, at random locations and then a phone call would go in and the operatives would go down there and recover the drugs.”

A team of “shift workers” will then find a base from where they work in filthy conditions, selling the drugs to local addicts."

In 2010 police claimed the had driven the Somali gangs from the flats, but they are now believed to control the drug trade across the town.

The same year a violent mainly Somali gang from London known as the "Bush Boys" took over the drugs trade in Basildon, selling from addicts' homes and hotel rooms.

AWARENESS: NCA investigations director Nikki Holland (Jon Austin)

Nikki Holland, National Crime Agency (NCA) director said in 2017 just 7 police forces said they had county lines activity, whereas last year all 43 across the UK did.

She said it was "greater awareness" of county lines that was leading to so many more reports now, but that violence and exploitation of children to sell drugs has increased.

A Sussex Police spokeswoman said: "This is not a new phenomenon. London affiliated gangs have been seeking to establish drug distribution in Sussex and elsewhere in the south east, for several years, although it has increased in the past two or three years, sometimes involving the use or threat of violence."

An ex-Met detective, who tweets as Frank Matthews, said: "It's been around for years. Back in the 80's in Hackney they were cuckooing addict's flats then to throw the Old Bill of their scent."

Another retired detective added: "It appears someone has given the name ‘county lines’ to a form of drugs supply that has been around as long as the Misuse of Drugs Act has existed.

"Dealers have always sought out more profitable markets with less risk."

Lucy Capron is national program manager for disrupting exploitation at charity The Children's Society, which helps children trafficked into drug dealing.

She said: "We were telling police and social services that children caught with drugs were victims of criminal exploitation six or seven years ago, but it is only now that it has been recognised as the problem of county lines."

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