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COUNTY LINES CRACKDOWN: More than 1,000 arrested in a week from Scotland to Cornwall

MORE than 1,000 people were arrested during the country's biggest ever single operation against the menace of county lines drug dealing.

Every police force from Scotland to Cornwall was involved in a series of raids from Monday September 14 to Sunday September 20 that was coordinated by the National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC), which is jointly led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA), funded by the Home Office.

There were 1,041 people arrested with 102 mobile phone devices which were used to sell the drugs and £526,000 cash seized.

Drugs worth more than £1 million were seized including £876,000 of cocaine, £87,000 of crack cocaine and £234,000 of heroin.

A shocking 196 weapons were seized including 139 knives, 18 firearms, 5 samurai swords, 13 machetes and 10 knuckledusters.

Since November police have been targeting those who run the county lines rather than just the runners, amid claims this is forcing more networks to stop operating.

County lines sees organised drug gangs from cities send runners into far flung coastal and market towns to take over the local drug supply, often with violent confrontations.

In November 2019, a number of pilot operations funded by the Home Office were launched focusing on the three force areas where the most lines originate from.

Two thirds of all lines stem from London with around 15 per cent each from Merseyside and the West Midlands.

BAGGED UP: An example of some of the drugs and a phone seized on the operation (NPCC)

The pilots involve close collaboration with forces where the lines run into and investigating officers at either end of the line run joint investigations from start to finish.

A National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) spokesman said: "Policing has evolved to focus more clearly on those controlling the line as opposed to those at the lower levels, and as such a clear strategy was developed as part of these operations to target the “lineholders.”

More than 3,600 people have now been arrested for being involved in County Lines since November 2019 when the new tactics were established.

Many of the runners used are groomed children, with 14 and 15 year-olds identified over the past week, and vulnerable adults who are also exploited.

Gangs also take over the homes of local drug addicts to use as a base to sell from, a tactic called cuckooing.

During the latest operation 861 cuckooed addresses were visited with 1,551 vulnerable people found who were engaged for safeguarding purposes.

STOP CHECK: BTP officer with sniffer dog at train station, which are used by runners to get to towns (NPCC)

Of these there were 69 referrals to a process called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which assesses individuals as potential victims of human trafficking/modern slavery.

The NPCC spokesman added: "Law enforcement has also developed a much deeper understanding of county lines and how those orchestrating it operate. It is not a crime type, it is a drugs distribution model, which is the catalyst for a range of criminality including serious violence, modern slavery, drug trafficking and anti-social behaviour.

"Tackling violence in all its forms is an absolute priority for policing and significant effort has been invested in understanding how those involved in county lines contribute to violent crime across the UK. This stark link between drugs and violence is further evident in the results achieved by forces throughout the intensification week."

Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Baker, from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU), said: “Work carried out across the four forces of West Midlands, Warwickshire, West Mercia and Staffordshire resulted in some tremendous successes during this intensification week. This will have a significant impact on the harm this type of criminality causes to local communities and shows that police and partners will continue to be relentless in our efforts to close down county lines.”

BURIED: One of the 18 firearms found in the operation (NPCC)

Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Ian Critchley, said: “Merseyside Police worked closely with colleagues from surrounding forces to identify and target those involved in bringing misery to our communities through drug supply. Our officers used of a range of technology and tactics to not only arrest those involved but deprive them of the profits gained from this activity. Crime must not pay and in this week alone we seized more than £50,000 and more than £53,000 worth of assets from criminals involved in county lines.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty, the NPCC lead for county lines, said: “Through significant efforts across policing we are beginning to turn what may have previously been considered a low risk, high reward enterprise on its head. Forces are working more closely on the disruption of county lines than ever before and have closed down a large number of the most violent lines in the UK.

“By targeting those at the centre of county lines, we not only disrupt the criminal network, but we prevent other criminality including serious violence from occurring. We are putting a spotlight on those responsible for coordinating widespread drug supply, and making them vulnerable to capture.

“County lines causes misery for communities and it is absolutely right we continue targeting those responsible. The results from this week alone show policing’s unwavering commitment to protecting the public and bringing criminals to justice.”

HEAD OF THE SNAKE: Niki Holland (Jon Austin)

Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigations and joint national County Lines lead, said: “The violence, exploitation and utter misery caused by county lines networks can be felt all the way from the top of the chain in the countries where the drugs are produced, right to the bottom on the streets of the UK.

“The NCA targets the international organised criminal groups who smuggle the drugs into the country that are then filtered down to the children being forced to transport them across the UK. By focusing on those at the top of the chain and effectively cutting the head off the snake, we reduce drug supply to the UK, making it an unviable business for the criminals involved.

“This joint approach with policing and our international partners allows us to mount our co-ordinated attack from all angles, and to disrupt firearms supply, money laundering, corruption, people trafficking, and other violent and exploitative crime that these groups are also involved in.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “I will not tolerate county lines drugs gangs terrorising our communities and exploiting young people, which is why I have made tackling this threat a priority. 

“I saw first-hand one of the operations last week and the results of this latest crackdown are hugely impressive. They send a clear message to criminals that law enforcement is coming after them.

“I will continue to back the police in their fight to roll up these gangs, including through our £25 million investment in this crucial work.”   

Charity the Children's Society welcomed the operation but said more needed to be done to safeguard children caught up in county lines.

James Simmonds-Read, National Programme Manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, said: “Bringing down the criminals who cynically exploit vulnerable children through these county lines operations is crucial.

“But it’s equally important that the children they have groomed, who may have been deeply traumatised by horrific violence, threats, and sexual abuse, are recognised as victims.

“Too often, these young people do not get the support they need, or are seen as having chosen to get involved in crime when they were manipulated and coerced. It is vital these children are protected from abuse rather than prosecuted and professionals must also get better at identifying children who may be at risk of exploitation sooner and offering timely help.

"We want to see the Government define child criminal exploitation in law and adopt a new national strategy to tackle the issue. This strategy should focus upon ending the postcode lottery when it comes to identifying and supporting young people who are exploited, alongside efforts to disrupt the criminals who have groomed them.

"Spotting the signs that a child could be at risk isn’t just a matter for professionals. That’s why we launched our Look Closer campaign alongside the National Police Chiefs Council and British Transport Police during this week of action. We’re urging staff who work in the service sector including in hotels, shops and in public transport to spot the signs a child may be being exploited and to report concerns to the police.”

NOTES: Cash seized in Edmonton on Thursday morning (Met Police)

Drug dealers exploiting the vulnerable have also been arrested by local police teams outside of the operation.

Yesterday morning officers arrested a man in Edmonton after anonymous tip-offs to Crimestoppers reported him for drug dealing. At 6.55am on Thursday officers from the North Area Borough Command Unit (BCU) arrested the 39-year-old man at his home address.

He was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply class A drugs and remained in police custody last night.

A Met Police spokesman said: "Inside the property officers seized suspected class A drugs including heroin and crack cocaine, £800 in cash, mobile phones and other evidence linking the man to drug dealing.

"The man is suspected of dealing class A drugs (such as heroin and crack) within the local community, exploiting vulnerable people to transport the drugs for him."

The neighbourhood officers involved in this investigation are part of a team co-ordinating the area’s response to drugs and violence.

The team of 11 officers work on investigations to develop vital information about violent crime in the community.

They worked to build up a picture of evidence to demonstrate the serious harm he was causing in the lead up to his arrest.

Inspector Matt Chapman said: “This arrest proves how vital Crimestoppers charity really is. We have no idea who submitted the intelligence as the information is 100 per cent anonymous however I am grateful to anyone who called as it has resulted in this arrest.

“The man we arrested this morning is clearly very dangerous and has exploited vulnerable people for his own criminal gains.”

“This arrest is part of our wider efforts on the BCU to disrupt violence and take dangerous criminals off the streets and prevent them causing further harm. Having a bespoke team who are working hard in the area to stop people such as this man is vital in our wider efforts to reduce harm and violence.”


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