Connect with us

Drug Trafficking

County lines: The UK urban drug gangs forcing children to deal in small towns

Published

on

county lines

Keen to branch out from their saturated urban markets in a bid to boost profits, UK inner-city drug dealers are increasingly targeting provincial towns and smaller metropolitan areas around the country, flooding them with illegal substances as they attempt to steal business from local rivals. British police have dubbed the practice “county lines”, named after the mobile phones the gangs set up to take orders from drug users in the new markets they target. More often than not, established gang members recruit young and vulnerable individuals to sell drugs on their behalf in the towns they are looking to take over, forcing their victims to carry narcotics and large amounts of cash between their urban base and the sometimes remote rural locations in which they are looking to establish new business.

Campaigners have compared the practice to child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, noting that children as young as 12 are routinely made to travel from urban centres such as London, Manchester and Birmingham to sell drugs including heroin and crack cocaine in locations as far away as Devon in the south west of England and Aberdeen in the north of Scotland. It has been reported that many face violence if they fail to move enough product or are robbed of their supply by rivals or customers. The UK government has taken steps to address the problem, committing £300,000 ($412,636) to fund a pilot project designed to help victims last October, and issuing a range of promotional material intended to help raise awareness of the problem last month.

Despite the phenomenon receiving a higher public profile over the course of the past few years, featuring more regularly in television documentaries and in the press, evidence suggests the number of county lines operations active in the UK is rising. A recent study from the National Crime Agency (NCA), the British equivalent of the FBI, noted that 88% of UK police forces reported county lines activity in their areas last year, an increase from 71% in 2016. The NCA report also said 77% of UK police forces last year reported incidents of “cuckooing”, a practice which involves county lines gangs taking over accommodation belonging to vulnerable people and using their home to sell drugs. Cuckooing victims are typically offered free drugs in exchange for allowing their property to be used in this way. As well as drug users, the gangs also target other vulnerable groups, including sex workers, people with physical or mental health problems or the elderly.

Describing how law enforcement officers are targeting cuckooing drug dealers in November last year, Detective Constable Kirsty Welsh, from Police Scotland’s Divisional Intelligence Office, said: “We know from gathering intelligence that one way drug dealers do this is by exploiting persons in the community who are an easy target such as those with substance abuse problems. They will look to take over their homes, in the same way the cuckoo bird takes over another bird’s nest, to assist with their illegal operation be it for storing or dealing drugs… There are a number of potential signs of cuckooing which include the householder having new associates and increased visitors throughout the day and night, an increased number of vehicles outside the property including taxis or hire cars and bags of clothing or bedding around their property or other signs that people may be staying at the address.”

The rise of county lines drug operations around the UK has coincided with a spike in drug-related gang violence, as dealers in out-of-town areas look to protect their patches from newcomers with force. Speaking with the London Times last month, former NCA official Tony Saggers said young county lines drug runners attempting to steal business in seaside and rural towns are driving up the use of acid, firearms and knives across the country, as they fight with rivals over the control of existing markets. Saggers said the increase in county lines activity around the UK has seen gang-related violence that would typically only be found in large urban areas spreading out to commuter towns and rural areas. He noted that young county lines dealers travelling to new areas often stand out due to their race, allowing existing suppliers to quickly identify them. “If you turn up in certain towns as a black drug dealer, that’s an additional factor, because the majority of the other drug dealers are white they stand out,” Saggers said.

It is thought that thousands of vulnerable young people across the UK have been targeted by drug dealers looking to establish county lines operations away from their main urban markets, and while it seems that police are slowly beginning to wake up to the extent of the problem, too little is being done to protect the victims of this increasingly prevalent criminal practice. All too often the children who are forced into county lines dealing are treated as criminals when they are inevitably arrested, while the more senior gang members pulling the strings are able to avoid justice. As well making a greater effort to disrupt the organised crime gangs behind county lines drug dealing operations, police need to recognise the young people they exploit as what they are – victims.

Continue Reading

Articles

US Coast Guard cutter offloads 16 tonnes of cocaine seized from multiple smuggling boats in Central and South America

Published

on

US Coast Guard boat offloads 16 tonnes of cocaine

A US Coast Guard cutter yesterday offloaded nearly 16 tonnes of cocaine with an estimated wholesale value of $466 million at a port in Florida.

Officials said the massive haul was seized from 21 separate drug-smuggling vessels that coast guard officers intercepted while patrolling the waters off Mexico and Central and South America.

Six Coast Guard crews were responsible for the interception of the huge quantity of cocaine, which was discovered on board multiple types of vessels, including fishing boats, and “go-fast” ships that had been specially designed to help smugglers conceal drugs and stay one step ahead of authorities.

In images published by the Coast Guard, officers can be seen recovering multiple bales of cocaine from the ocean after smugglers threw the drugs overboard when they realised they had caught the attention of US authorities.

Other pictures show a large quantity of the drug concealed below the deck of a vessel that was intercepted nearly 250 miles southeast of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Huge piles of cocaine bales can be seen stacked up on the deck of one cutter as it approached Port Everglades early yesterday morning in another image.

Commenting on the success of the three-month operation, Michael Sharp, Commanding Officer of the cutter Forward, said in a statement: “The interdiction and disruption of more than [15 tonnes] of cocaine is a result of the collaboration and coordination of multiple Coast Guard and interagency assets to address the complex maritime challenge of transnational criminal organisations.

“I am extremely proud of all the women and men that contributed to the mission success, it is a direct reflection of how the US Coast Guard delivers mission excellence anytime, anywhere.”

At the end of last month, another Coast Guard cutter offloaded more than 90kgs of cocaine and handed four suspected smugglers over to the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Puerto Rico after intercepting a go-fast vessel in waters north of Arecibo.

The suspected smugglers caught with the shipment, which was estimated to be worth some $3 million, were said to be Dominican nationals who are now likely to face federal prosecution by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.

Lieutenant Carl Luxhoj, Air Station Borinquen MH-65 helicopter pilot, said: “The combined air support from both the fixed wing and rotary wing aircrews made the surface intercept of the suspect vessel possible.

“The recovery of evidence would not have been possible without the support of the Puerto Rico Police Department (FURA).  The outstanding coordination from all involved prevented illegal migrants and contraband from reaching American soil.”

Continue Reading

Articles

British county lines gangs making £500 million a year by forcing 10,000 children to sell hard drugs

Published

on

British county lines gangs making £500 million

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) last week released its annual report of the growing problem of county lines drugs gangs in Britain, which are now estimated to be making an annual profit of £500 million ($654 million) having forced 10,000 children as young to 11 to sell substances such as heroin and crack cocaine on their behalf.

The term “county lines” refers to urban gangs that recruit young vulnerable people to travel to suburban and rural communities to sell drugs, allowing the criminals to branch out of saturated inner-city narcotics markets.

In a practice known as “cuckooing”, low-level dealers recruited by county lines gangs will often take over properties rented by addicts to use as bases from which to sell drugs, offering residents fixes of their substance of choice in return.

The gangs use dedicated mobile phone lines to take orders for drugs, with calls typically being taken by more senior members in urban centres, who then instruct low-level dealers in county lines areas to carry out sales.

According to the NCA’s latest assessment of the phenomenon, 2,000 individual telephone lines were being operated by county lines gangs across England and Wales last year, more than double the 720 identified during the previous 12 months.

Police in the UK last week also noted that county lines gangs are increasingly using short-term rental properties and Airbnbs as drug-dealing bases for just a few days, moving on swiftly so as not to attract the attention of law enforcement agencies.

Commenting on the findings of the agency’s report, Nikki Holland, Director of Investigations at the NCA and County Lines Lead, said in a statement: “Tackling county lines is a national law enforcement priority. We know that criminal networks use high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse to ensure compliance from the vulnerable people they employ to do the day-to-day drug supply activity.

“Every organised crime group trafficking drugs is a business which relies on cash flow. County lines is no different. What we will continue to do with our law enforcement partners is disrupt their activity and take away their assets.

“We also need to ensure that those exploited are safeguarded and understand the consequences of their involvement. This is not something law enforcement can tackle alone – the need to work together to disrupt this activity and safeguard vulnerable victims must be the priority for everyone.”

Continue Reading

Articles

Police from Italy and Spain intercept 2.7 tonnes of Colombian cocaine

Published

on

2.7 tonnes of Colombian cocaine

A joint operation conducted by Italian and Spanish police has resulted in the seizure of more than two tonnes of Colombian cocaine.

The huge shipment, which is thought to have been organised by the notorious South American organised crime syndicate the Gulf Clan, was discovered in two shipping containers docked in separate Italian ports, where the drugs were waiting to be taken to their final destination of Barcelona in Spain.

Some 643kgs of the drug was found concealed in a container full of coffee at the Italian port of Livorno.

A much larger consignment of just over 2.1 tonnes was later found in a container that was otherwise empty at the port of Genova.

In total, both shipments had an estimated street value of €630 million ($723 million).

One man who was said to be preparing to receive the contents of one of the containers once they reached Barcelona has been arrested in connection with the massive haul, which is thought to be the largest recovered by Italian police in a quarter of a century.

The drugs were found on 15 January in containers that had originally set off from Honduras, before being transferred to another vessel in Costa Rica.

Police in Spain said the traffickers behind the smuggling attempt had used the “blind hook” method, also known as the “rip-on, rip-off” technique, which involves cartels bribing customs officials to secretly conceal contraband inside shipments of a legitimate goods, replacing security seals once they have done so.

The Gulf Clan, which has a reputation for using violence and intimation to protect its trafficking routes, is said to be reasonable for the production and distribution of approximately 70% of Colombian cocaine.

In July last year, it was reported that the syndicate had placed a bounty of up to $70,000 on the head of a sniffer dog who helped Colombian customs officers find 10 tonnes of cocaine hidden in suitcases, boats and large shipments of fruit.

The clan is thought to have been behind the largest haul of cocaine ever discovered in Spain, which was found concealed among over 1,000 boxes of bananas in a shipping container that arrived from Colombia at Algeciras port in the southeast of the country last April.

That shipment weighed nearly nine metric tonnes, and was estimated to be worth more than €285 million.

Separately, the English-language edition of Spanish daily newspaper El País yesterday reported that Spain has become Europe’s top interceptor of cocaine, with seizures there rising 5,000% since 1987.

Continue Reading

Newsletter

Sign up for our mailing list to receive updates and information on events

Social Widget

Latest articles

Press review

Follow us on Twitter

Trending

Shares