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48 arrests and 28 vulnerable people safeguarded in county lines week of action

Press release   •   May 21, 2019 00:01 BST

Officers safeguarded 28 potential victims and made 48 arrests during the operation that ran between Monday 13th – Friday 19th May.

It focused on disrupting and stopping criminal networks from other cities bringing illegal drugs into Hampshire and the Isle of Wight using dedicated mobile phones and exploiting vulnerable people. These county line networks will often use and exploit young people and vulnerable adults to commit crime and will use fear, intimidation and violence against them or their families to get what that want.

Warrants were executed in Southampton, Portsmouth, Basingstoke, Aldershot, Andover and the Isle of Wight.

They seized more than £17,455 in cash, 39 phones, six knives, as well as carrying out prevention work with schools, hotels and taxis firms.

Neighbourhood Policing Officers visited addresses to check they were not being exploited by drug dealers or their homes taken over by them to use as a base to deal, known as cuckooing.

Chief Inspector Mark Lynch led the operation.

“County Lines is a continuous threat to our communities, these drug dealers bring misery, fear and violence with them, they don’t care what damage they cause.

“These organised crime groups use county lines as a business model to prey on the most vulnerable and what we tend to see is that where there is county lines there is often an increase in violent crime as rival networks come into conflict.

“I’m very pleased with the significant results of how the operation went.”

As well as targeting those involved in county lines crime, Hampshire Constabulary also sees educating potential victims as an important preventative measure.”

Superintendent Matt Reeves, Tactical Lead for Drug Related Harm at Hampshire Constabulary, said: “As a Force we recognise the risk, we work closely with other forces to tackle the complex and widespread issue of county lines and will use a powerful enforcement response to detect and deter criminality in our communities. We have taken action to disrupt and dismantle supply networks and alongside our partners we assisted those involved in the fringe of criminality due to their own vulnerability or dependence on drugs to find safety and help break the cycle. Much of our work isn’t overt, a lot involves safeguarding the most vulnerable in our society.

“We continue to work with our colleagues in education, social care, transport networks and charities among others to tackle this issue in collaboration.”

“What is often overlooked when we talk about drug dealing networks is that there are genuine victims that get caught up in the county lines business. Hardened criminals who will deliberately target the most vulnerable and exploit them to carry out their illegal work. These are often young people and adults with mental health, addictions or unmanageable debt.”

Michael*, 55 was a victim of cuckooing. His home was taken over by drug dealers from London in January. His experiences have left him in fearful and in debt. “I still feel their presence now it was a terrible ordeal…They just turned up one day and said we want to do business from here. I said no and they just yes you are… and I knew what that meant. They said I’d get hurt and stuff like that, they pulled out their knives, it was horrible.

“I’ll always feel vulnerable it ain’t left my head I don’t know if it will leave my head.”

Superintendent Matthew Reeves, continues: “I’m particularly pleased to see that we have directly safeguarded a number of vulnerable people through our enforcement work.

“We looked to use the week of action as a way to publicise our work and make sure people know how to spot the signs of county lines and that they can report it. By highlighting the good work we do it gives local people confidence in our commitment to tackle drug related harm and serious violence in our communities.

“Many of our successes are a direct result of information provided to us by the public. It is important anyone who has any suspicions or concerns around the supply of drugs reports it. I would urge anyone who is concerned about someone who may be involved in this activity to contact us or one of our partners.”

If you have any information that could help police tackle county lines drug crime please call 101. Alternatively, information can be provided anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.