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Drug report

A second report from the National Crime Agency on the UK drug distribution model known as county lines has found that most police forces in England and Wales are now reporting established activity within their area.

County lines typically involves an urban criminal gang travelling to smaller locations to sell heroin and crack cocaine. The group will use a single telephone number for customers ordering drugs, operated from outside the area, which becomes their ‘brand’. Unlike other criminal activities where telephone numbers are changed on a regular basis, these telephone numbers have value so are maintained and protected.

Tony Saggers, the NCA’s Head of Drugs Threat and Intelligence, and co-author of the report, said: “The key priority for the NCA around county lines is raising awareness of the threat to young and vulnerable people. Since the report in 2015, police and other partners are more informed about what a county lines market looks like. This has led to increased recognition and reporting, and to safeguarding partners being better equipped to collaborate. This 2016 report provides greater insight again, and will be an important part of improving our collective response.

“Given the levels of exploitation of young and vulnerable people that are taking place we think there could be real value in finding ways to use the Modern Slavery Act in tackling county lines. Whilst a drugs conviction is often seen as a badge of honour within these criminal gangs, anecdotal evidence tells us that they attach stigma to a modern slavery conviction. We need to make that work for us.”

The NCA reports that the gangs tend to use a local property, generally belonging to a vulnerable person, who perhaps has mental health issues, as a base for their activities. This is often taken over by force or coercion, and in some instances victims have left their homes in fear of violence. They employ various tactics to evade detection, including rotating gang members between locations so they are not identified by law enforcement or competitors, and using women and children to transport drugs in the belief that they are less likely to be stopped and searched.

For the full 14-page report visit the NCA website.


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