Police get tough in battle against ‘County Lines’ drug dealers

Viewers to BBC’s South East Today last night will have seen Police officers at work in Hastings making arrests as part of Sussex Police’s offensive against so-called ‘County Lines’ drug dealers – Operation Fortress.

Police across Sussex have made scores of arrests in the last ten days as the force looks to keep up the pressure on County Lines dealers.

During the week starting on May 13th, officers carried out 12 warrants, 29 arrests and made more than £10,000 worth of class A drug seizures as well as 36 mobile phones being used to conduct business related to drugs deals.

During the same week, officers carried out safeguarding action to support 26 vulnerable people and visited 43 addresses where people were at risk of being ‘cuckooed’ to check on their safety.

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Wraps of Crack Cocaine and Heroin seized from a house in Hastings.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Rayland said: “We are continuing to disrupt dealers who try to deal dangerous drugs across our communities and are targeting those who use children to sell drugs or those who buy drugs from children; we will investigate and prosecute them.

“Our work will continue relentlessly, targeting those who would bring harm to local people, including often the most vulnerable and this is the result of just one week’s activity.

“Local crime is often a direct result of major drug distribution via County Lines and by working together with partners to shed a light on this often hidden crime. We are sending a clear message to drug dealers that they cannot expect to go undetected in Sussex.”

‘County Lines’ is a term used by Police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks, both gangs and organised crime groups, from large urban areas such as London, who use children and young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf. Gangs dealing drugs is not a new issue but the extent to which criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, as well as the increasing use of violence, has become an inherent part of it through ‘County Lines; makes it especially damaging, say Sussex Police.

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Officers in pursuit of ‘County Lines’ dealers.

“The organised crime groups tend to use a local property, generally belonging to a vulnerable person, sometimes a drug user, as a base for their activities. This is known as ‘cuckooing’ and will often happen by force or coercion. In some instances victims have left their homes in fear of violence. Much police work involves identifying these victims and helping them,” a police spokesman told Hastings In Focus.

Police say they continue to see children being exploited by criminal gangs to supply drugs in Sussex and know of children travelling from London to Sussex to deal drugs on behalf of county line gangs as well Sussex children being exploited and targeted by London gangs to deal drugs locally.

“Our priority is to identify those children at risk of criminal exploitation and once identified work with partner agencies to put the appropriate safeguarding measures in place,” the spokesman said.

The areas in Sussex most effected by the drug trade from London are the larger coastal towns, with established drugs markets that can be exploited locally, including Hastings, Eastbourne, Worthing, Bognor, and Brighton, but also towns such as Crawley.

Ch Insp Rayland said: “We use the range of legal powers to tackle this problem, ranging from the Misuse of Drugs Act to Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking legislation and technological advances through the use of Drug Dealing Telephone Restriction Orders (DDTRO).

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An officers arrests a suspect in Hastings town centre.

“We also work closely with other agencies to support those vulnerable adults and children who are exploited by county line gangs. This includes regular visits to those adults at risk of cuckooing and raising awareness with those agencies engaged with children to ensure that information is shared effectively to prevent young people being drawn in to this criminality.”

The County Lines response isn’t just a policing one, effective collaboration between law enforcement and safeguarding organisations and also the private sector industries is a vital part of both the national and local response.

Members of the public can also help, the best advice is to trust your instincts – if somebody shows signs of mistreatment, or a child seems to be travelling long distances or is unfamiliar with a locality, you can report suspicions to local police on 101 or online or to British Transport Police if you see something on the railway network.

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