More than 1,600 arrests in week-long crackdown on county lines gangs

More than 1,600 suspected members of county lines drug dealing gangs have been arrested in one week across England and Wales (Joe Giddens/PA)
More than 1,600 suspected members of county lines drug dealing gangs have been arrested in one week across England and Wales (Joe Giddens/PA)

More than 1,600 suspected members of county lines drug dealing gangs have been arrested in one week across England and Wales.

Action by police forces across the two countries saw class A drugs worth £1.2 million, the same amount in cash and more than 100kg (220lb) of cannabis seized.

A total of 710 people, including 58 children, were referred to safeguarding services as possible victims of exploitation by the gangs.

County lines refers to urban-based drug dealers who stretch out into more rural areas, using dedicated phone lines to take orders from customers.

The gangs are notorious for exploiting children to work as drug runners, and taking over the homes of vulnerable people to store illegal substances.

The week’s action saw 250 phone lines closed down, and 458 weapons seized, including 33 firearms, 377 knives, three crossbows, 21 batons and 28 knuckle dusters.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines Commander Paul Brogden said: “County lines drug dealing destroys lives, and we are committed to tackling the supply of illegal drugs, and the exploitation and violence that is frequently associated with it.

“Our message is clear to anyone running county lines across the country – we will be relentless in our pursuit of you, we will shut down your county lines, we will take drugs off our streets, and we will rescue those who are being exploited by you.”

Since a national county lines programme was launched in 2019, 4,755 lines have been closed, 14,887 arrests made and 7,267 children or vulnerable people referred to safeguarding services.

Mr Brogden said the reality of being in a county lines gang is not like popular TV series such as Toy Boy.

“Series such as Top Boy glamorize what is effectively a life of crime, this is violence, this is exploitation. This is not being a gangster, it’s about being exploited and being drawn into a life of crime, often that ends in misery.

“It’s incredibly violent. It’s an unsafe place to be.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman with Superintendent Ronan Tyrer outside the front door of a house in Coventry.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Superintendent Ronan Tyrer attend a county lines raid with officers from West Midlands Police in Coventry (Joe Giddens/PA)

Police are working with prisons to clamp down on some county lines that are being run from inside jails.

“We’ve seen criminals evolve and some of these lines are now controlled within prisons.

“So obviously we are working with the prison service to make sure that we also investigate county lines that may have a footprint in prisons as well,” he told the PA news agency.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman accompanied officers from West Midlands Police on raids in Coventry as part of the week of action.

The operation saw cannabis with an estimated street value of £850,000 seized, including more than 850 plants and nearly 6kg (13lb) of dried cannabis recovered.

Ms Braverman said: “We know that drugs, whether it’s class A – cocaine or heroin or crack cocaine – or cannabis, cause extensive misery and devastation to communities and individuals and we’re determined to stamp it out.”

Police Scotland also took part in the week of action, visiting 373 homes thought to have been taken over by the drug networks, arresting 25 people and seizing class A drugs worth more than £300,000. Weapons including machetes, a meat cleaver, a knife and a baseball bat were also recovered.

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Freeburn said: “The harm caused by illegal drugs across Scotland is well-documented and county lines drug dealers bring nothing but misery to our communities. They exploit vulnerable people and groom and threaten young people to become involved in their nefarious activities.

“Our message is clear, this is simply not welcome or tolerated in Scotland.”