Last Friday, a series of raids were carried out by police at addresses across Merseyside and North Wales, several of which were attended by Home Secretary Priti Patel. The raids were focused on targeting the leaders of county lines gang which exploit children as drug mules across the country.
She watched on as police officers broke down doors at 15 addresses in locations like Liverpool, Chester, Rhyl, Bangor and Colwyn. The operation included 120 officers from different branches, all dressed in riot gear.
On the topic of county lines and the police crackdown, Patel said: “I will not tolerate these abhorrent gangs that are terrorising our towns and exploiting our children. I'm pleased to see such strong results from the police - they have my full backing in this crucial work.”
The operation which the raids were part of has seen some success already. Paul Crowther, a chief constable with the British Transport Police had this to say in a statement: “We have seen first-hand the devastating impact these exploitative gangs have on young people, and we are determined to disrupt this criminal activity.
Since the founding of the county lines taskforce we have seen excellent results, with 80 gang members being arrested and drugs and other potential lethal weapons being seized.”
Three months ago, the Home Secretary highlighted the activity of county lines gangs as a focus for the government, announcing the pledge of funds amounting to £25 million to tackle the issue.
The money is set to fund technology for number plate data collation as well as setting up and funding a team of experts with the British Transport Police, including undercover policemen at railway stations. It will also help to provide support to the victims of county lines exploitation by recruiting more specialist caseworkers for counselling.
County lines refers to the activity of drug gangs when they expand into smaller towns and villages, outside of the bigger cities. They control a network of mules and dealers across these smaller towns and villages using a number of phone lines known as ‘deal lines’.
A key feature of these operations is the exploitation of young and vulnerable people who are either groomed or forced into drug running for the city-based gangs. These victims are occasionally moved long distance away from their homes and are frequently mentally, physically and sexually abused.
If you suspect county lines activity is taking place in your neighbourhood, or you know someone who may be a victim, you can contact the police on 101 or on 999 in an emergency situation. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to report activity anonymously.