Recent months have seen increasing numbers of stories in the local and national press about ‘county lines’ and ‘cuckooing’. These terms are identified by the National Crime Agency as referring to the activities of drug gangs in the UK’s smaller towns and rural communities. But what exactly do they mean? And how do these issues affect our communities across Shropshire?
A county lines drug network is where gangs, groups or drug networks supply drugs from urban to suburban areas across the county, including market towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. A common feature in county lines drug supply is the exploitation of young and vulnerable people. The dealers will frequently target children and adults - often with mental health or addiction problems - to act as drug runners or move cash so they can stay under the radar of law enforcement. Violence and intimidation using weapons are often used to minimise resistance to the gang’s drug dealing activities and exploitation.
There are currently over 20 known active County Lines operating in Shropshire. Speaking to the Shropshire Star back in March, Detective Sergeant Jon Taylor, of West Mercia Police, outlined 6 or 7 urban street gangs operating county lines in Telford alone.
DS Jon Taylor identified some of the problems facing police when tackling this ever-evolving problem:
“The individuals that are here supplying the drugs today may be different to the people supplying them tomorrow and the next day. The line remains the same and the people controlling them from the city remain the same but the runners are always different.”
“We get intelligence that a particular address is being used and we look at that address and within a couple of days it’s been closed down and they moved on somewhere else.”
Cuckooing is a form of crime in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for drug dealing.
Victims of ‘cuckooing’ are often drug users but can include older people, those suffering from mental or physical health problems, female sex workers, single mums and those living in poverty. Victims may suffer from other forms of addiction, such as alcoholism, and are often already known to the police. Dealers often approach the victim offering free drugs to use their home for dealing.
What you can do
Awareness is the first step towards tackling this problem within our communities. Be aware that this is happening in our counties. If you are concerned about a friend or neighbour then please raise this the police via 101 or Crimestoppers.