More than 1,000 people arrested in week-long national crackdown on county lines drugs gangs

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Around 600 county lines gangs are thought to currently be in operation in the UK

More than 1,000 people have been arrested as part of a week-long national crackdown on county lines drug dealing gangs.

Forces across the UK conducted a week of action from 17 May, making 1,100 arrests in total, seizing 33 guns and 219 knives, and identifying 80 drug dealing phone lines.

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600 county lines gangs

Forces across the UK conducted a week of action from 17 May (Photo: Shutterstock)Forces across the UK conducted a week of action from 17 May (Photo: Shutterstock)
Forces across the UK conducted a week of action from 17 May (Photo: Shutterstock)

Police believe there are around 600 county lines gangs currently in operation in the UK, which is a significant drop from approximately 2,000 two years ago.

The gangs are urban drug dealers who sell to customers in more rural areas using dedicated phone lines, and are notorious for exploiting children to work as couriers.

They are also known for forcing vulnerable people into allowing them to use their homes to conceal or deal drugs, as portrayed in BBC drama Line Of Duty.

A total of 904 of these “cuckooed” homes were visited by law enforcement officers during the week of action, helping to safeguard 1,138 vulnerable people.

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National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said the drop in the number of gangs operating in the UK can be attributed to an increased police response over the last 18 months.

He said: “We have been relentless in pursuing those behind the line whilst doing everything possible to rescue those being exploited.

“Intensification weeks like this allow us to dedicate a burst of activity and resources nationally, highlighting to the public our absolute determination to rid communities of this abhorrent crime.

“We will use all the powers available to us to tackle every element of the county line network because we know the effect violence and crimes associated with county lines can have in our communities.

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“It is vital that everyone looks out for the signs of exploitation.

“This may be a child with unexplained cash, a new expensive phone or clothing, suddenly going missing, in possession of rail tickets or taxi receipts, a change in behaviour and new people suddenly appearing at a house or flat.”

Changing crime methods

Mr McNutly added that officers had to adapt to the changing methods of the gang amid the pandemic, which saw more dealings made using cars due to fewer train and coach services in operation over the last year.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday (27 May), he said: “Coaches haven’t been running, trains have been a lot quieter, and we’ve seen some movement into cars for dealing lines and taking drugs across the country and we’ve responded to that.

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“I think the results from this week show we’ve been successful in reducing county lines (but) it is an ongoing battle.”

The National Crime Agency, which was also involved in the week of action, saw operations that led to the seizure of 1,102lb (500kg) of cocaine from a shipping container at London Gateway, as well as the discovery of 37.5lb (17kg) of heroin after a Polish driver was stopped at Coquelles in France.

Another HGV driver was also charged with allegedly smuggling 236lb (107kg) of cocaine, worth £8.5 million, to the UK on a ferry from Holland.

National Crime Agency director of investigations Nikki Holland said the week of action came after “a very busy year” tackling the smuggling of Class A drugs.

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She added: “It is a high priority for the NCA to build on the successes we have had in source countries and along the drugs supply routes, so that organised crime groups land fewer drugs in our towns and cities and prevent them being pushed further afield through county lines groups.”

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