‘County lines’ drug threat the focus of new co-ordination centre

An expert team has been established to spearhead efforts to tackle gangs that use children as mules in lucrative drug smuggling operations.

Personnel drawn from law enforcement agencies will lead the UK’s response to the sprawling narcotics distribution model known as “county lines”.

This typically involves city gangs branching out into county or coastal towns to sell heroin and crack cocaine.

They deploy children and vulnerable people as couriers to move drugs and cash between the new market and their urban hub.

The name given to the scheme stems from the phone lines used by dealers to facilitate the supply of class A substances.

A recent assessment suggests there are more than 1,000 lines in operation nationally.

Investigators say a typical line will generate in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 per day.

On Friday, the Home Office announced that a new £3.6 million National County Lines Co-ordination Centre has become fully operational.

A 38-strong team of experts from the National Crime Agency, police forces and regional organised crime units will gather intelligence on the complexity and scale of the threat and prioritise action against the most serious offenders.

They will also liaise with government partners, including in the health, welfare and education spheres.

NCA Director General (Operations), Steve Rodhouse, described county lines as a “national problem”.

He said: “Supply gangs are responsible for high levels of violence in addition to the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable adults and children.

“Law enforcement collectively has been stepping up its response, working to identify and take effective action in areas of the country with the most significant problems.

“In addition to helping the NCA and policing partners to work together more effectively and deliver a more comprehensive response to the county lines threat, the centre will assist the development of a whole system, multi-agency approach which is vital to ensuring that vulnerable people are identified and safeguarded, understanding factors behind demand for drugs, and recovering proceeds of crime.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, the national policing lead for gangs, said: “The very nature of county lines offending means that we can only truly tackle it by bringing together all UK police forces, law enforcement agencies and other partners to create a unified national response.

In an article for the Daily Mail, Home Secretary Sajid Javid warned county lines gangs are “devastating communities across the length and breadth of the UK”.

Minister for Crime Victoria Atkins said the new centre will strengthen the law enforcement response.

“We are determined to put an end to the serious violence blighting communities,” she said.

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