County line and cuckooing: Vulnerable targeted by major drug gangs
Detectives today described how they have teamed up with other agencies to protect children and vulnerable adults who are being used and abused by organised drug gangs.
They are appealing for public help in identifying the victims and homes that may have been taken over by dealers.
Police say ‘county lines’ is an emerging national issue.
Organised crime groups from urban areas such as London, Liverpool and Birmingham put children and vulnerable adults between themselves and the risk of detection by manipulating them into carrying and selling drugs.
In Oswestry, police working with housing associations say they have driven dealers out of 10 homes in the town, where they had been ‘cuckooing’ taking over the property to use as a base.
The County Lines team in Shropshire has arrested more than 200 people. Class A drugs with a street value of almost £30,000, a cannabis factory worth £100,000 and almost £35,000 of cash have also been seized.
Now Dyfed Powys Police has spoken of the problem and revealed it is putting intensive efforts into breaking up operations in which vulnerable people are used to carry out criminal activity.
Detective Chief Superintendent Shane Williams, from Dyfed Powys Police, said: “Drugs cause serious harm in our communities, and the way these organised crime groups extend their drug dealing business is deplorable.
“Our number one priority is to protect vulnerable people, and this includes children as young as 12 and vulnerable adults ruthlessly exploited by urban gangs to do their dirty work.
“In exchange for carrying out a task, the victim may be promised or given something they need or want. This could be something tangible such as money, drugs or clothes or intangible such as protection, status, affection or perceived friendship.
“They may also carry out an activity due to fear of violence or retribution.
“Any child or vulnerable adult can be affected and it’s important to recognise that it can still be exploitation, even if it appears consensual.
“Working together with a wide range of partner agencies including local authorities, third sector agencies, housing associations, train and coach operators, we will identify abuse sooner so that we can intervene and keep vulnerable people safe.
He said ‘cuckooing’ was an example of how a gang will use and abuse a vulnerable person. This is where a gang will take over a drug users’ or other vulnerable person’s home, and use it as a base for their local drug dealing.
The detective added: “This may be with the blessing of the resident, but more often is as a result of force or the threat of force. In some cases, the resident can also be pressured into selling drugs.
“Dyfed-Powys Police is asking for the public and partner’s help to identify exploitation like cuckooing. So, if your neighbour or tenant is suddenly having many more visitors to their property and at unusual times of the day and night, or you notice that their curtains or blinds are almost always shut, it could be because their home has been taken over by a drug dealing gang,” said Mr Williams.
“Likewise you may be in a position as a parent or carer, teacher or health worker to identify that a young person’s behaviour has changed. You may notice that their academic performance is declining or they are persistently going missing from school.
“They may suddenly have cash to splash or new clothes and gifts from an unknown source or maybe carrying a weapon such as a knife. This could be because they have become involved with a gang.”
West Mercia Police commander for Shropshire, Superintendent Jason Wells, said: “So-called county lines sees city drug dealers attempt to move their drug dealing into smaller county towns using a dedicated phone line to orchestrate their dealing.
“In order to infiltrate local communities they will adopt a practice known as cuckooing which sees organised crime groups target vulnerable people in our local communities, taking over their property.”