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Nearly 600 arrested in nationwide crackdown on county lines drug gangs

RAIDS: Police up and down the country raided suspected county lines drug dens (NCA)

NEARLY 600 members of suspected 'county lines' drug gangs have been arrested across the country in a week-long operation.

Police arrested 500 men and 86 women between May 13 and 20 as the National Crime Agency (NCA) cracks down on the menace that has fuelled violent crime across the UK.

During raids up and down the country £312,649 cash and 46 weapons were also seized, including including four firearms, swords, machetes, an axe, knives, samurai swords, and a crossbow.

Significant amounts of drugs were recovered, including £176,780 worth of cocaine, £36,550 worth of crack cocaine and £17,950 worth of heroin.

There were 519 vulnerable adults and 364 children identified as possible victims of the gangs, who may require safeguarding, but so far only around 30 of them were referred as potential victims of human trafficking or modern slavery.

The operation was co-ordinated by the National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC), which is jointly run by the NCA and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), and was led by police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs).

PRIORITY: Nikki Holland of the NCA said county lines is a national priority (Jon Austin)

Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigations, said: “Tackling county lines and the misery it causes is a national law enforcement priority and these results demonstrate the power of a whole-system response to a complex problem that we’re seeing in every area of the UK.

“We know that criminal networks use high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse to ensure compliance from the vulnerable people they employ to do the day-to-day drug supply activity.

“Thanks to the hard work of law enforcement officers there are now fewer drugs on the streets, more vulnerable people safeguarded and the public can be reassured that collectively we are committed to tackling serious and organised crime offenders and safeguarding victims.“

County lines involves criminals in London and other cities sending dealers to suburbs, market towns and coastal resorts, to feed growing habits, while risking violent turf wars.

Organised crooks coerce, often vulnerable, people and children as young as 12 into selling drugs for them in far-flung areas using the dedicated mobile phone numbers, known as the lines.

SEIZED: County lines drug gangs are fuelling the rise in violent crime across the UK (Met Police)

Young people and vulnerable adults are exposed to physical, mental and sexual abuse, and in some instances will be trafficked to areas a long way from home as part of the network’s drug dealing business.

The homes of local drug addicts are also taken over, in return for drugs, in a practice called 'cuckooing'.

The number of lines is now estimated at around 2,000 and figures from the National Referral Mechanism, which helps victims of slavery, show the number of modern slavery cases involving UK minors went from 676 in 2017 to 1,421 in 2018.

Last week raids were carried out up and down the country.

Sussex Police arrested 29 people and seized £10,000 of class A drugs.

Police in Suffolk and Norfolk stopped a known drug user.

Searches of the address led to class A drugs, cash and two large knives being recovered.

Three arrests were made.

MENACE: Cash and phones seized during a previous county lines raid (police imag

Police identified a 14 year old missing girl from Cambridge at a location in London.

Three males were arrested. A drugs warrant was executed in Bedford and two people were arrested, including the suspected holder of the drugs phone line.

£500 in cash, a large amount of class A drugs, multiple phones and weapons were among seized items. During a cuckooed property visit in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, drugs were thrown from the building, and four people were arrested and approximately £15k in cash and £45k in assets were seized, including a car. During a joint British Transport Police operation with the South East Region at Basingstoke, Hampshire, police seized cannabis, MDMA, a baton, a knife, and PAVA spray from a male.

Cheshire Police arrested a man and a woman and seized 10 wraps of drugs, £700 cash, mobile phones and a hire car vehicle key.

They also seized a weapon described as a long cane with a blade inside.

CLEAR MESSAGE: Duncan Ball says county lines cannot be beaten without the public (Jon Austin)

Duncan Ball, NPCC lead for County Lines, said: “The past week has seen police forces work together across the UK to send a clear message that we will do everything possible to dismantle county lines gangs and protect the vulnerable being exploited by them.

“The large number of arrests and weapons seizures is testament to the hard work and dedication of officers across the country, the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre and the support of key partners like social care, the NHS, schools and the charity sector.

“Tackling county lines is not something we can do alone and we need the public to help us by reporting any information or concerns.”

Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime Safeguarding and Vulnerability said: “As a government we are determined to crack down on county lines, disrupt the networks devastating communities and put an end to the violence and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.

“Our Serious Violence Strategy includes a range of actions to enhance our response to this issue, and a multi-agency approach is key. That’s why we invested over £3.6m to establish the new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which has improved intelligence and supports cross border efforts to tackle this serious issue.

“But it’s also imperative that we steer young people away from a life of crime in the first place."

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