Technology

Telecoms firms asked to shut down ‘glaringly obvious' drug lines

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said it is clear to mobile firms when phones are being used for drug dealing.

Senior police officers are in talks with telecoms companies to automatically shut down phones used for county lines drug dealing.

Dame Cressida Dick, Britain’s most senior police officer, said it is “glaringly obvious” when a line is being used by a criminal gang to sell drugs.

The phones, typically older models using pay as you go Sim cards, will rack up hundreds of calls and text messages per day as a dealer, usually in an urban base, communicates with customers in more rural areas.

Dame Cressida said: “It’s glaringly obvious when you look at the phone data what a device is being used for. It is a unique way of using phones like that.

“We would say it is obvious to the companies that supply those devices. We will work with them and the Government and whoever necessary to continue to restrict the ability of county lines individuals to carry out their pernicious activities.

“We want to destroy the business model.”

Talks are under way between senior police officers, the Home Office and the telecoms industry to find a way to stop phones being used for county lines.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner added: “Right now there are conversations going on involving senior police and the Home Office and the (telecoms) companies.

“I’m very hopeful that we will come to a satisfactory conclusion where it is not possible for somebody to use one of these phones in this manner.”

County lines are drug dealing networks that use phone lines to set up deals from urban bases with customers in more rural areas.

The National Crime Agency estimates that they generate between £500 million and £750 million for criminals each year, and affect every police force area in the UK.

It is estimated that there are between 800 and 1,100 county lines phone numbers in use in the UK at any one time.

Around 300 of these are based in London.

In London in the year to March, 1,300 people linked to county lines were charged with 2,000 offences, including more than 20 murders.

Since November, the Metropolitan Police have teamed up with 11 outside forces to charge 87 county lines phone line holders as part of Operation Orochi.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said: “We set a very deliberate strategy of targeting the line holder. These are the people who often rarely leave London, they avoid the risk of handling the commodity, getting hands-on with the drugs themselves, but they co-ordinate the distribution of drugs across the UK.

“They exploit children and vulnerable adults, and they collect the profits at the end. These are the people who really are in the shadows, but they are responsible for a trail of misery and mayhem.”

The lines targeted include 20 in Norfolk.

One line, the Tommy line, had a customer base of more than 300 people, and took 565 calls and text messages per day.

Officers say that once the line holders are behind bars, the line and accompanying brand dies and is not immediately replaced.

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