County lines: Government pledges £300m to break up 2,000 drug gangs as part of new England and Wales strategy

The crackdown includes aggressive measures to disrupt gangs, as well as preventative and deterrence measures against drug use

A £300m crackdown on county lines drug gangs has been pledged by Boris Johnson as part of a 10-year drugs strategy for England and Wales.

The Prime Minister has committed to breaking up 2,000 city-based crime rings which supply class A drugs to surrounding rural and town areas, usually via vulnerable children.

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It comes after the police made 468 arrests in October and more than 1,000 in May as part of separate national crackdowns on the organised crime practice.

Boris Johnson (second from right) attended a county lines-related police raid in Liverpool to launch his new drugs strategy (image: Getty Images)

What has been pledged?

Here are the five key things Mr Johnson has pledged as part of the England and Wales drug strategy:

  • An aggressive campaign aimed at dismantling more than 2,000 county lines over the next three years through thousands of arrests. Police will carry out 6,400 ‘disruptions’ against the activities of organised criminals, targeting the road and rail networks they use while protecting vulnerable young people exploited by the gangs to run drugs for them. In an interview with The Sun On Sunday, Mr Johnson said it could include controversial measures like removing the passports and driving licences of offenders
  • Increased investment and better recovery schemes in an attempt to end the cycle of addiction and repeat offending. The Home Office said 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England are responsible for nearly half of acquisitive crime, e.g. burglary and robbery, while drugs drive nearly half of all homicides. The total cost to society is put at close to £20bn per year
  • More drug testing on arrest, with police encouraged to direct individuals who test positive towards treatment or other relevant interventions, e.g. drug awareness courses
  • Judges will be given the power to order drugs tests on offenders serving community sentences for drugs-related crimes, with the prospect of jail if they test positive
  • Police powers to seize drug dealers’ mobile phones and use them to send messages to their clients to discourage drug use and direct them to support. This measure is designed to remove the feeling of anonymity when people purchase illegal drugs by making them aware the police know what is happening
Police made 468 arrests in October and more than 1,000 in May as part of separate national crackdowns on county lines (image: Getty Images)

These deterrence and prevention measures will be accompanied by a behaviour change campaign that’s set to be piloted on university campuses.

This campaign will seek to find out what kind of anti-drug messages work.

The Sun on Sunday also reported there would be extra cash for 50 local authorities with the worst drug problems, including Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Liverpool.

Other than the £300m pledged for the criminal justice system, it is unclear at present how much money the other policies will cost.

‘Crime week’ begins

The announcement forms part of what has reportedly been dubbed as “crime week” by Downing Street, with more policy announcements due in the coming days.

Monday (6 December) has been ‘drugs day’.

“Drugs are a scourge on our society, fuelling violence on our streets which communities across the country are forced to endure,” Boris Johnson said.

“That’s why, to cut crime and truly level up across the country, we must step up efforts to wipe out the vile county lines gangs who are blighting our neighbourhoods, exploiting children and ruining lives.

“Backed by record investment, the strategy we’re setting out today will attack supply and break the county lines model which sees criminals profit from people’s misery. Those who break the law will have nowhere to hide.”

Labour’s newly appointed Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said that with class A drug use up 27% since 2010 and drugs deaths at a record high, Government action was long overdue.

“More than £100 million has been cut from treatment services, and cuts to policing budgets have meant that specialist drug enforcement teams have taken a backseat, allowing gangs to grow, dealing to increase and demand to soar,” she said.

“Drug use is up, serious violence is up, anti-social behaviour is up. More and more offenders are getting away with their crimes as overall prosecutions have plummeted.

“Any action from the Government must be substantial enough to undo the damage they have caused.”

The Government’s announcement comes at an awkward time for Parliament, after The Sunday Times reported traces of cocaine had been discovered in numerous toilets around the parliamentary estate.

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