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Drug Trafficking

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

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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.

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Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA

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wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine

Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.

The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.

According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.

The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.

The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.

Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.

The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.

On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.

Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.

“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”

The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.

The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.

Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.

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Australian police smash gang that smuggled methamphetamine from US to Queensland in comic books

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methamphetamine from US to Queensland in comic books

Law enforcement authorities in Australia have broken up an organised crime gang that trafficked large quantities of drugs into the country from the US by hiding them in comic books.

Raids carried out on properties linked to group that took place at the end of a six-month investigation conducted by officers from the Queensland Police Service (QPS) resulted in the seizure of 3kgs of methamphetamine with an estimated value of more than A$1 million ($695,000), cannabis, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), drug paraphernalia and an amount of cash.

QPS detectives arrested 10 suspected members of the gang and charged them with 40 offences, including the trafficking and supply of dangerous drugs, money laundering, importing a border-restricted drug, possession of dangerous drugs, stealing, possession of drug utensils and possession of the proceeds of crime.

The ringleader of the group, who police described as a 49-year-old Gold Coast man of no fixed abode, is said to have travelled regularly to the US, where he is thought to have coordinated the trafficking of narcotics via courier services to Queensland from southern California, which investigators noted is close to the US border with Mexico.

Images posted online by police show how those involved in the trafficking conspiracy concealed bags of methamphetamine inside comic books before sending them to Queensland, where gang members on the Australian side of the operation would then distribute the drugs across the Gold Coast.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said the negative impact of methamphetamine on the local community was impossible to overstate.

“This operation has dismantled a significant criminal network and removed over 30,000 hits off Queensland streets,” he said in a statement.

“This operation clearly demonstrates our ability to bring resources to bear on those involved in the supply of this insidious drug.

“Our efforts will continue, and offenders need to understand every opportunity to bring then before the court will be taken regardless of the location or time of day.”

Smith said intelligence gathered from sources linked to the gang resulted in its members’ detention, adding that the alleged leader of the operation had travelled to the US on more than a dozen occasion since October last year.

The suspects arrested and charged in connection with the conspiracy will appear before the courts over the course of the coming month while investigations into their activities continue, the QPS said.

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Members of two UK crime networks jailed after largest-ever seizure of cocaine in Britain

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largest-ever seizure of cocaine in Britain

Seventeen people have been jailed for a total of 120 years after police in the UK seized the largest shipment of cocaine ever confiscated on land in Britain.

Gang leaders Jamie Simpson and Jamie Oldroyd, who headed up two separate organised crime groups involved in the conspiracy, were jailed for 11 years and six months and 14 years and three months respectively after police impounded cocaine estimated to be worth £20 million ($25.5 million).

The huge shipment of drugs was found when police stopped Simpson and two of his associates while they were travelling in a van on a motorway in the English county of Kent.

Detectives used a number of vehicles to pen the van to a wall in the middle of the motorway, and pinned Simpson to the ground before conducting a search of the vehicle.

This resulted in the discovery of 186kgs of cocaine, the majority of which had been concealed in hidden compartments beneath the floor of the van, as well as a number of encrypted smartphones and jamming devices that were used by gang members to evade the attention of police.

Detectives said the seized cocaine was destined to be sold across the north of England.

Liverpool Crown Court was told the gang members were caught as a result of a 14-month police operation that involved the gathering of intelligence on both organised crime groups.

A smartphone video played to the court showed gang members using a cash-counting machine to process large piles of bank notes estimated to be worth some £150,000.

An additional three men are waiting to be sentenced for their parts in the trafficking operation after they pleaded guilty to supplying cocaine.

Detective Chief Inspector Mike Evans, from Cheshire Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “This operation has not only resulted in the largest haul of cocaine being seized in the history of Cheshire but also the largest national in land seizure.

“We have wiped out two organised crime groups, preventing them as well as other gangs from gaining extreme profits and in doing so have protected our communities along with vulnerable adults from criminals who bring with them intimidation, exploitation and violence.”

“To transport such a colossal amount of cocaine you have got to be a confident, arrogant and greedy individual. Simpson has proved that he is exactly that and this is what led him to believe he could bring illegal drugs into Cheshire without being disrupted.”

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