Vulnerable people who are coerced and forced into dealing drugs for out of county drug gangs have been the focus of the latest County Lines activity in Wiltshire.
Between Monday 21 and Sunday 27 January 2019, as part of a nationwide week lead by the National Crime Agency and National Police Chiefs' Council, officers from the Force carried out welfare checks on a number of addresses in the county.
As a result:
13 vulnerable juveniles were identified and engaged with.
25 vulnerable adults were identified and engaged with.
19 "cuckooed" addresses were visited.
Also, ten men were arrested and a total of over £3,500 in cash, approximately 60 wraps of drugs and a machete were also recovered during the week which included work by both the Dedicated Crime Team (DCT) and Community Policing Teams.
On Wednesday 23 January, officers from the DCT attended a property on Homington Avenue to carry out welfare checks following reports of a dangerous drug network working from this address which had cuckoo'd the person who lived at the property.
Approximately 20-30 wraps of crack cocaine and heroin , a machete, around £2,000 in cash and a number of mobile phones were discovered during the visit (see attached pictures).
Three men were arrested on suspicion of supplying class A drugs: 21-year-old from Plaistow, London, a 21-year-old from Gloucester and a 20-year-old from Waltham Forest, London were taken into custody but have now been released under investigation while enquiries continue.
In a separate operation, just before the week, on Thursday 17 January, three men were arrested on suspicion of supplying class A drugs after their overdue hired Vauxhall Corsa was stopped in Upavon by officers suspecting the car was carrying drugs.
A 28-year-old, a 24-year-old and 50-year-old - all from Birmingham were arrested and have been released under investigation.
Subsequently two other men were arrested on suspicion of supplying class A drugs: a 23-year-old man of no-fixed address in Wiltshire and a 24-year-old man from Finchley, London.
They have also been released under investigation.
This operation was integral as part of the on-going work to close down a known County Lines link to Birmingham.
On Monday 21 January, a 20-year-old man from Bristol was arrested on suspicion of affray and stealing a car following an incident in the Usher's Court area of Trowbridge.
He has been released under investigation.
On Wednesday 30 January, 30-year-old Simnbar Mondhlani from Birmingham was arrested in Swindon and charged with possession with intent to supply crack cocaine and heroin as well as being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine .
He has been remanded in custody.
On Tuesday 22 January, officers from the Swindon Community Policing Teams conducted an operation working in partnership with the British Transport Police in a targeted operation at Swindon Railway Station.
Officers in uniform and plain clothed worked in the railway station looking for members of county lines gangs using the rail networks to transport drugs into Swindon.
A/Sgt Chris Wickham, who lead the operation from Wiltshire Police, said: “County Lines gangs are a real problem that is closer to home that some people might think. Young and vulnerable people living in our communities are being exploited by these gangs. The people purchasing the drugs, who are in themselves often vulnerable, regularly commit crime to fund their habit. Targeting those who operate in Wiltshire, intending to selling class A drugs remains a priority for us and we will carry on demonstrating that Swindon and Wiltshire is an unattractive place for those involved in county line drug dealing."
Head of Crime Prevention for Wiltshire Police Sonja Leith said: “County Lines is everyone’s responsibility and I would urge members of the public to be vigilant and look out for some of the most visible signs that drugs gangs are operating in neighbourhoods and to report this to us - your call could save lives.
“Together with our partner agencies across Swindon and Wiltshire, we work hard to identify where County Lines are exploiting vulnerable children and adults, to proactively disrupt these networks and to safeguard and protect those at risk of harm. The intelligence we receive from people in all of our communities is crucial in helping us, our partner agencies and neighbouring forces tackle this."
County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas in the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of ‘deal line’.
They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money, and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.
Gangs based in cities like London are targeting the most vulnerable people in small towns across the country to sell class A drugs on their behalf.
They may also take over the home of a vulnerable person and/or addict to use the premises as a base – this is called cuckooing.
These can generate between £3,000 and £5,000 per day, meaning they are defended from competing groups with violence and intimidation.
The NCA and NPCC assess there to be approximately 1500 lines in operation in the UK.
The National County Lines Coordination Centre was set up with £3.6m of Home Office funding, and officially launched in September 2018.
The Centre is mapping the threat from county lines nationally and prioritising action against the most significant perpetrators.
It also provides support to front line officers dealing with county lines crime, and is working to deepen partnerships with non-law enforcement organisations in order to enhance the wider national response.