Over 1,000 arrests in week-long county lines drug gang crackdown

25 September 2020, 06:11

Police made 1,000 arrests in the week long operation
Police made 1,000 arrests in the week long operation. Picture: PA

Organised crime gangs were dealt a significant blow by police who launched a week-long crackdown on county lines drug networks.

More than 1,000 arrests were made, 18 guns were taken from criminals' hands, and more than £1.5m worth of cash and class A drugs were taken off the streets during the operation, police said.

It represents around ten per cent of the overall county lines drugs operation being wiped out, police said.

The action last week, involving 43 regional forces in England and Wales, the British Transport Police and National Crime Agency, was the most successful ever of its kind.

One of the weapons recovered by police
One of the weapons recovered by police. Picture: PA

The operation targeted county lines, a gang model which often sees young and vulnerable people used as couriers to move drugs and cash between cities and smaller towns.

Some 102 "deal lines", linked to unique phone numbers dialled by users to buy drugs, were shut down.

It amounts to at least a tenth of the estimated 800 to 1,100 active county lines currently believed to be operating in the UK.

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Each line can make about £25,000 a week and police are still unsure where much of the money ends up.

Investigators said restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic and a better understanding of mobile phone data had helped them target the drug dealers operating the lines.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) lead for county lines, said: "We know now what a county lines phone looks like.

"And we know what the activity looks like on that phone.

"From all the cases we have dealt with, which have gone to court, we know it's pay as you go, we know it's unregistered, we know there's bulk text message usage, selling your wares.

"We know the average recipient list and we know about the incoming activity on that phone, which is helping us to really focus on county lines."

Senior police officers have previously said they are in talks with the Home Office and the telecoms industry to find a way to stop phones being used for county lines.

About a third of all lines are thought to operate out of London, with between 12% and 15% run from both Liverpool and Birmingham.

The Met's Detective Superintendent Mike West said 30 vulnerable youngsters found "at significant risk" across the country have been taken back to the capital since November, with some drug runners found to be as young as 14.

His force also saw the most line holders arrested in a single week, with 23 held during the latest crackdown.

The officer said many of the criminals running drug lines are linked to serious violence in the capital, including murder and firearms possession.

"Around two-thirds or so are linked to London gangs. That is a particular lifestyle and so the cash is spent sometimes very quickly as well," he added.

The crackdown was part of fresh efforts to tackle county lines drug dealing from last November, which has seen a £25 million commitment from the Home Office.

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."