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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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Canadian police target young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

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young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

Police in the Canadian province of British Columbia have arrested three teenagers in a crackdown on street-level gang activity and drug dealing.

Officers from the Abbotsford Police Gang Crime Unit (GCU) and the Abbotsford Police Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) last week detained two 18-year-olds and one 19-year-old on suspicion of drug offences after police searches resulted in the discovery pre-packaged deals of synthetic opioid fentanyl and crack cocaine along with CA$1,500 ($1,122) in cash and a number of mobile phones.

Detectives taking part in the operation also impounded a 2016 Jeep Wrangler that is said to have been used by the suspects to deliver the drugs they are alleged to have been selling.

Police said the arrests were carried out with the assistance of a patrol division, an emergency response team and sniffer dogs.

The operation was launched after police in the region discovered that local gang members were increasingly attempting to recruit young people who had recently learned to drive.

Sergeant Maitland Smith, of Abbotsford Police’s GCU, said in a statement: “We are currently seeing a trend in Abbotsford evolving around the recruitment of youth into gangs, and more specifically ‘new’ drivers.

“More established street-level drug dealers are aware that the police are seizing vehicles and assets upon being arrested; so they are recruiting younger drivers to chauffeur them as they conduct their drug trafficking business.

“In most cases, these young, new drivers are using vehicles registered to their parents to drive the dealers around with the promise that they will get a share of the profit at the end of the day.”

Smith went on to explain that acting as a driver for drug dealers is a serious offence that could result in arrest and prosecution, regardless of whether young car owners have handled illicit substances or not.

He also warned that any vehicle that police believe has been used to facilitate the sale of illegal drugs could be seized, even if the car is officially registered to a young person’s parents.

Abbotsford Police warned young people they could be putting themselves, their friends and their relatives at risk if they become involved in drug dealing or other forms of organised crime, noting that dozens of young adults have been shot dead across the region over recent years.

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British police warn social media users not to mock drug dealer’s receding hairline

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mock drug dealer’s receding hairline

Police in the UK have warned social media users not to make fun of the receding hairline of a wanted drug dealer whose mugshot they posted online.

Gwent Police last week used Facebook to ask members of the public to help locate drug dealer Jermaine Taylor, who was being recalled to jail after breaching the conditions of his release licence.

Alongside its appeal, the force posted an image of Taylor sporting a thinning head of hair styled in a peculiar fashion, which readers of Gwent Police’s Facebook profile proceeded to mock incessantly.

Before being taken down, the post appealing for information that might lead to the apprehension of the 21-year-old had attracted more than 10,000 Facebook “likes”, tens of thousands of comments and over 14,000 shares.

“Push his release date back further than his hairline, that should teach him,” one user wrote.

Another quipped: “What is it with prisoners released on licence, hair today gone tomorrow…”

The popularity of the post and mean nature of some of the comments posted beneath it prompted Gwent Police to issue a statement warning social media users they could face prosecution if they are nasty to people online.

“We’re really grateful to everyone who is assisting us in locating Jermaine Taylor, and we must admit a few of these comments have made us laugh,” the force said.

“However, when the line is crossed from being funny to abusive, we do have to make sure we are responsible and remind people to be careful about what they write on social media.

“If you say something about someone which is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, then you could be investigated by the police.”

The statement attracted further light-hearted comments, with one Facebook user posting: “Can’t work out what’s thinner. This guy’s hair or Gwent Police’s skin?”

Numerous UK police forces have faced criticism over recent years for targeting internet trolls at a time when violent crime is rocketing across Britain.

In September last year, Chairman of the UK Police Federation John Apter told the Daily Telegraph that detectives in Britain are so busy dealing with trivial matters on the internet that they are unable to tackle real crime.

He spoke out just weeks after South Yorkshire Police encouraged people to report “non-crime hate incidents”, which it said “can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing”.

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British drug gangs grooming children to deal for them with free fried chicken, committee is told

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British drug gangs grooming children

A UK Parliamentary committee has been told that drugs gangs across Britain are grooming children in fast food restaurants by buying them fried chicken and chips.

UK Parliament’s Youth Select Committee has been given written evidence relating to the activities of criminal “chicken shop gangs”, which target vulnerable children at fast food restaurants, especially those who have been excluded from school.

Over a period of time as short as just a week, senior members of county lines drugs gangs buy meals for their vulnerable victims at locations such as chicken restaurants, before forcing them to run drugs when the young people are unable to pay them back for their food.

The inner-city gangs, which groom young people before forcing them to travel to small towns and rural areas to sell illegal substances such as heroin and crack cocaine, are also said to be targeting children at centres to which they are sent after being expelled from mainstream education.

In written evidence to the committee, the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales said: “Some [young people] shared that their peers had been targeted by gangs outside of Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), as well as outside sports centres.

“They also said that sometimes children are recruited through an offer of food (referred to as chicken shop gangs) and they felt that schools could to do more to keep children in school as it could be a protective factor from gang involvement.”

Last month, campaigners in London launched an initiative intended to raise awareness of gangs grooming children in fast food restaurants.

Unveiling a poster campaign at the beginning of July, the London Grid for Learning said: “The principles are the same [as with any other type of grooming]; it doesn’t need to be an expensive pair of trainers – if a cousin of a friend or a friend of a friend is buying you fast food or small gifts, they might just be nice… or they may expect you to return the ‘debt’ you don’t know you are building up.

“This can [happen] faster than you think, even if you think ‘it wouldn’t happen to me’.”

Separately, a BBC investigation has revealed that county lines activity is behind a rise in drug crime in many small towns and villages across England and Wales at a time when similar offences are on the decline in many major city centres.

Back in February, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that county lines drugs gangs in Britain were making an annual profit of £500 million ($604 million).

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