‘County line gangs make me sick’ – home secretary vows to help child drug mules

The leaders of county lines gangs are being targeted, with the home secretary vowing to stop children being exploited across the country as drug mules.

Last year Priti Patel announced additional funds to combat the problem.

And after joining a police raid in Liverpool earlier, she told Sky News: “I will not tolerate these abhorrent gangs that are terrorising our towns and exploiting our children.

“I’m pleased to see such strong results from the police – they have my full backing in this crucial work.

“Across government we have the collective responsibility to make sure we can cut the head off the snake and get to the upstream causes of why it has become such an issue across the UK.

“We are committed to rolling up county lines but we’ve got to work in a much more coordinated way.

“We’ve got to protect those children and give them hope and opportunity – there is a better life than drugs. First and foremost we have to safeguard children and stop them falling into this death trap.

“It makes me feel sick, it is abhorrent. We are not speaking about a handful of children. Thousands of children go missing every year – thousands of our children are being exploited across the country.”

More than 120 officers from Merseyside, North Wales and the British Transport Police (BTP) raided 15 addresses in Liverpool, Rhyl, Chester, Bangor and Colwyn Bay.

Before embarking on Operation Medusa, officers in Merseyside were told that criminals were even operating drugs routes from a bus station outside their own HQ.

Merseyside Chief Constable Andy Cooke said: “Sorry for the miserable weather – but let’s make it an even more miserable day for those criminals.”

The BTP and Merseyside Police have already made more than 100 arrests during intensive operations that have taken place in the past two months.

Weapons, phones, drugs and cash have been seized.

Liverpool is one of the key metropolitan hubs for what is called County Lines drug dealing – which is characterised by the use of branded drug phone lines and the exploitation of young people as drug runners into smaller towns across the UK.

It is thought these networks are contributing to the increase in knife crime across the UK.

The problem has been growing for a number of years with the National Crime Agency (NCA) reporting that there are 2,000 lines being operated by criminals in an industry worth £3m a day.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that county lines would be “totally wound up”.

But the promised crackdown comes as the government battles a surge in knife crime.

Ministry of Justice data shows the number of people cautioned or convicted for carrying knives in England and Wales has reached record levels with some 44,076 offences involving a knife logged last year.

The increased police action in Liverpool was funded by £5m of Home Office money from £20m that was previously committed by the home secretary to dismantle county lines.

Merseyside Chief Constable Andy Cooke said: “In the last two months the concentrated activity of our officers, working together with British Transport Police and other forces in the UK, has led to the cutting of seven county lines run by organised crime groups.

“As a result we have arrested 48 people and more importantly we have been able to safeguard 21 people who were being exploited by these groups.

“County Lines are run off the backs of vulnerable people targeted by ruthless criminals.

“They use the vulnerable to deal their drugs, while they sit back and live off the criminal earnings from the sales of illegal drugs which blight our communities.”

Chief Constable Paul Crowther, from BTP, said: “We have seen first-hand the devastating impact these exploitative gangs have on young people, and we are determined to disrupt this criminal activity.”

Since the founding of the BTP county lines taskforce 80 gang members have been arrested and drugs and other potential lethal weapons being seized.

Anyone concerned about county lines can speak to police on 101, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, Childline on 0800 1111, or report crime anonymously at www.fearless.org

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