“Phenomenal” amounts of drugs are being smuggled into the UK despite massive seizures by law enforcement officials.
National Crime Agency director of investigations Nikki Holland told the PA news agency that while investigators have uncovered huge hauls, including one gang that brought 50 tonnes of cocaine, heroin and cannabis into the UK in 18 months, vast amounts still make it on to the streets.
She said: “We know that the county lines dealers are still dealing.
“That in itself is concerning because if we’ve seized that amount of drugs and it’s still carrying on there’s obviously phenomenal amounts of drugs coming in.
“We are having impressive seizures but there are still plenty of drugs getting through.”
So far 15 men have been charged as a result of the investigation into the network, thought to be one of the biggest ever uncovered in the UK.
The NCA also made the largest ever seizure of heroin, nearly 1.3 tonnes, in Felixstowe on August 30.
In May this year NCA director general Lynne Owens called for the body’s annual budget to more than double with a boost of £650 million per year, on top of the £475 million expected spend in 2019/20.
Ms Holland, who has spent most of her career in law enforcement as a detective, said: “If we double the size of the agency, we might get nearer to choking that supply.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has pledged an extra £20 million to combat county lines gangs, and a government review has been announced of the fight against serious organised crime.
Ms Holland said given the choice, she would invest heavily in tracking drug gangs online.
Many networks now use social media to advertise, including pushing special offers like buy one, get one free.
“A lot of crime now is online,” she said. “It’s really hard to police things that are online, the dark web.
“And it’s not about numbers on the streets, it’s about technical expertise.
“From an agency perspective I would invest a lot more in activities and specialist capabilities around the dark web and some of the covert stuff that we do.
“My job is to make sure that we in the NCA go upstream internationally to choke the drugs supply and the firearms supply from coming into the UK in the first place.
“So that would be where I would invest the money.”
According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), there are more than 4,500 serious and organised crime groups in the UK and this type of crime costs the economy an estimated £37 billion a year.
These include county lines drug dealing gangs, that operate around 2,000 individual phone lines selling mainly crack cocaine and heroin.
Each line can generate up to £800,000 per year, and many are run by forcing children to deal drugs on the street while gang bosses evade capture.
It is thought that every police force area in England and Wales is affected by county lines activity.