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Over 1,400 arrested in a national week-long operation on county lines drug dealing

21 Oct 2021

National county lines intensification week, which targets drug traffickers who often recruit children and vulnerable adults to supply drugs across the country, ran from Monday, 11th to Sunday, 17th October. All forces in England and Wales engaged in operations to crackdown on county lines.

  • 1,468 people were arrested
  • 2,664 vulnerable people, including 2,209 children, were engaged for safeguarding purposes
  • Nearly £2m worth of Class A drugs seized
  • £1,254,384 in cash seized
  • 289 weapons seized, including 49 firearms and 120 knives
  • 139 drug lines were identified and seized
  • 6kg of Crack Cocaine, 28.8kg of Heroin and 26.8kg of Cocaine seized
  • 894 cuckooed addresses visited

County Lines is the term used to describe drug dealing where mobile phones are used to supply drugs from large cities to towns and rural areas. County Lines are run by ‘Line Holders’ and the runners, often young and vulnerable children, deliver the drugs. The system of drug distribution leads to serious violence and exploitation.

Police forces across the UK are using the full force of the law, including increased use of modern slavery legislation to charge line holders, not only for drug supply but also human trafficking offences.

This legislation, which can include preventative and restrictive measures, has helped ensure line holders are subject to Court Orders with strict conditions, often for many years after they leave custody.

As a result of the work that has been carried out by the major exporting force areas of Merseyside, West Midlands and the Metropolitan Police, combined with the work of the British Transport Police and the ‘importing forces’, the number of county lines has reduced from 2000 in 2018 to approximately 600 active lines at any one time.

County lines drug dealing is linked to the most serious violence, demonstrated through the weapons seized across the week, including 12 zombie knives, 22 machetes, 4 cross bows and 8 samurai swords.

A vital reason to tackle county lines is the safeguarding of young children and vulnerable adults, often groomed to run drugs from one city to other parts of the country. Grooming is often followed by extreme violence and coercive behavior.

Police can now bring victimless prosecutions for modern slavery offences, just one of the many ways officers are protecting young people. Victimless prosecutions ensure children and vulnerable adults are spared the ordeal of having to go through the court process and face the violent and abusive individual responsible for their suffering.

This county lines intensification week was again run in partnership with The Children’s Society and their #LookCloser campaign to spot the signs of exploitation in children and young people.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for County Lines, Graham McNulty, said:

“We are making significant inroads into dismantling violent county lines. The figures speak for themselves: we’re stopping abhorrent criminals abusing young people and lining their own pockets in the process.

“Nearly £2, 000, 000 worth of Class A drugs and hundreds of weapons are now off our streets thanks to the work of officers up and down the country.

“Charities are a vital tool in the fight against county lines and I am delighted that we have been able to work with the Children’s Society again this year. I would encourage parents, teachers, youth workers, members of the public to come forward with any information if you are worried or suspect that a child or young person has become involved in County Lines.

“The message is clear: if you are line holder, abusing vulnerable people and causing misery to our communities, we are coming after you.”

The National Crime Agency works with partners at the border and abroad to choke the supply of illegal drugs into the UK. Their recent successes around the intensification week include:

  • An investigation leading to the charging of six men over the seizure of 2.3 tonnes of cocaine worth £190m
  • Intelligence developed by the NCA led to the seizure of 5.2 tonnes of cocaine at sea by Portuguese partners
  • A British driver charged as part of an NCA investigation into the recovery of 5kg of heroin and 176kg of cocaine from his vehicle.
  • A West Midlands van driver charged over £7m cocaine and heroin haul in Dover

NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said:

“We are proud to work with our policing and borders colleagues to fight the scourge of drugs which can devastate communities.

“The intensification comes after a very busy year for the NCA in stopping Class A drugs coming to the UK.

“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.”

James Simmonds-Read, from The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, which worked with forces to run its Look Closer campaign alongside the intensification week, said: 

“It’s vital that professionals spot instances where children have been exploited by criminals, so we are pleased that many vulnerable people - including young people - have been identified as being in need of support. 

“The public can also play a crucial role in spotting signs of exploitation and reporting them to the police and Look Closer highlights how everyone from commuters to transport and shop staff can help children to escape horrific exploitation. 

“Young people may not ask for help themselves because they have been manipulated into thinking they are making a choice or because they have been subjected to terrifying threats.”