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WATCH: The drugs gangs targeting Cornwall and Devon

WATCH: The drugs gangs targeting Cornwall and Devon

Published by Emma Carton at 8:11am 3rd July 2018. (Updated at 8:42am 3rd July 2018)

Police in Cornwall and Devon have launched a crackdown on urban gangs exploiting vulnerable children.

Officers warn youngsters are often being coerced into moving and stashing drugs using mobile phone lines.

They say communities are being targeted by criminals operating outside the Duchy.

Detective Superintendent Anthony Hart is leading the push to safeguard 'County Lines'.

"We're very often seeing young people going missing from school or from home in order to supply drugs for the gangs. Very often they've been coerced into doing so.

"It is worth remembering that Devon and Cornwall remains one of the safest places to live in the UK and these cases are relatively rare.

"However we are asking for members of the public to look out for their neighbours and other people in their communities, particularly young people".

What is 'County Lines'?

county lines 1

County Lines is a term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to other parts of the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines.

The gangs are likely to exploit children or vulnerable adults to move and store drugs and they will often use coercion.

This is a national trend and there are criminal gangs using the County Lines operating model across Devon and Cornwall.

What are the warning signs?

  • A child or young person going missing from school or home or significant changes in emotional well-being.
  • A person meeting unfamiliar adults or a change to their behaviour.
  • The use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Acquiring money or expensive gifts they can't account for.
  • Lone children from outside of the area.
  • Individuals with multiple mobile phones or tablets or 'SIM cards'.
  • Young people with more money, expensive clothing, or accessories than they can account for.
  • Unknown or suspicious looking characters coming and going from a neighbour's house.
  • Relationships with controlling or older individuals or associated with gangs.
  • Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries.

Gangs may also target women who tend to be drug users or have engaged in a relationship with a gang member. They can become victims of sexual and domestic violence and can also be coerced into delivery drugs or money for the gang.

Vulnerable adults who are in financial difficulties or who have mental health problems are usually the most likely victim of cuckooing.

county lines 2

"Our recent policing activity over the last year shows that our counties are not a safe haven for drugs supply chains and anyone coming to the area intending to be involved in drugs will face prosecution.

"We have teams across the force area who focus on disrupting these drugs supply lines and on protecting the vulnerable people who become victims of crime. We also work closely with other forces, regionally and nationally, as well as the Regional Organised Crime Unit, to share intelligence and best practice to target drug suppliers.

Neighbourhood teams and response officers are regularly patrolling areas that are used for 'street dealing' creating an environment where there is no safe place left to hide.

"County Lines gangs will often target children and young people, women and vulnerable adults to deliver drugs and money between locations.

"An operating base is also an essential feature of the County Lines criminal model. Gangs will regularly exploit vulnerable people, forcing them to build up a debt or using threats of violence in order to take over a person’s home, a practice known as 'cuckooing'.

"Police have worked to identify people who may be either susceptible to, or victims of, drugs networks who use their homes to 'set-up shop'. Once into the address drug dealers use this as a base to run their activity for short periods of time before moving on.

"Any address that has previously been used is entered onto a database and then visited by Neighbourhood teams. This relies on good working relationships between local partners, housing providers and tenants. This process also provides opportunities for rehabilitation and rehousing to break the cycle of vulnerability and offending where relevant.

"By consistently visiting people in our community we aim to reduce the risk of people becoming repeat victims of cuckooing and to continue to build the intelligence picture to ensure that other people are not put at risk of harm from Organised Crime Groups.

"We have continued to keep up this level of activity and in 2018 have continued to visit addresses where 'live' cuckooing is suspected to be taking place.

"We recognise that County Lines drug supply is a problem that cannot be solved by the police alone. We will continue to work with our partner agencies and our communities to tackle the issue, sending a clear message to drug suppliers that they are not welcome in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly".

Detective Superintendent Anthony Hart

What can I do?

If you have concerns surrounding children, follow safeguarding procedures and share your concerns with local authority social care services.

If you are being affected by any of the above or know someone who is then contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by calling 101.

Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Further information on County Lines can be found on the Devon and Cornwall Police website.

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