Police have rescued more than 350 children from the clutches of county lines gangs in a major nationwide crackdown.
Almost 600 people were arrested in a series of raids last week.
In one instance, a missing 14-year-old girl from Cambridge was found in
Almost 600 people were arrested in a series of raids last week. Teenage gang members were among those held, and police seized drugs, cash and weapons. A stock photo is used above for illustrative purposes only [File photo]
Teenage gang members were among those held, and police seized drugs, cash and weapons.
They also helped 519 adults – some of whom had seen their homes taken over by dealers.
In the raids, officers discovered 364 vulnerable children involved in or at risk of being drawn into drug dealing, who were ‘engaged for safeguarding purposes’.
Police also held a number of teenagers, including a boy of 15 arrested in Huddersfield who is accused of being part of a gang known as the ‘SJ line’ supplying drugs in Blackpool.
Suspected child drug runners aged 16 were also held in Staffordshire and Lincolnshire.
At least 30 people, including many children, had been victims of modern slavery or people trafficking, police believe.
The UK-wide crackdown coordinated by the National County Lines Coordination Centre is one of the biggest operations yet to dismantle the estimated 2,000 UK drug networks.
Officers arrested 500 men and 86 women suspected of being involved in county lines drug dealing, which refers to the mobile phones used to buy and sell drugs.
That is almost three times the number of arrests made last October when the centre run by the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council launched the first round-Britain crackdown.
They also seized a fearsome cache of 46 weapons including four guns, swords, machetes, an axe, knives, samurai swords, and a crossbow.
In the week-long operation, £312,649 in cash and a large quantity of drugs including cocaine worth £176,780, crack cocaine worth £36,550 and heroin with an estimated £17,950 value was recovered.
A number of train stations were also targeted around the UK including Macclesfield in Cheshire, Walton in Surrey and Basingstoke in Hampshire where police seized cannabis, MDMA, a baton, a knife, and PAVA spray from a male suspect.
In Bedfordshire, the suspected ringleader of a drugs line was arrested at a property where officers recovered £500 in cash, a large amount of Class A drugs, multiple phones and weapons.
During another raid of a cuckooed property in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, a gang threw drugs from the building as they attempted to escape.
Police have rescued more than 350 children from the clutches of county lines gangs in a major nationwide crackdown. A stock photo is used above for illustrative purposes only and the girl described is not the model pictured above [File photo]
Four men were late arrested and approximately £15,000 of cash and £45,000 in assets were found.
In Hampshire, officers made 48 arrests targeting networks that bring drugs into the region and the Isle of Wight.
National Crime Agency County Lines lead and Director of Investigations Nikki Holland, said: ‘Tackling county lines and the misery it causes is a national law enforcement priority and these results demonstrate the power of a whole-system response to a complex problem that we’re seeing in every area of the UK.
‘We know that criminal networks use high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse to ensure compliance from the vulnerable people they employ to do the day-to-day drug supply activity.
‘Thanks to the hard work of law enforcement officers there are now fewer drugs on the streets, more vulnerable people safeguarded and the public can be reassured that collectively we are committed to tackling serious and organised crime offenders and safeguarding victims.’
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for County Lines, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, said: ‘The past week has seen police forces work together across the UK to send a clear message that we will do everything possible to dismantle county lines gangs and protect the vulnerable being exploited by them.
‘The large number of arrests and weapons seizures is testament to the hard work and dedication of officers across the country, the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre and the support of key partners like social care, the NHS, schools and the charity sector.’
Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime Safeguarding and Vulnerability said: ‘As a government we are determined to crack down on County Lines, disrupt the networks devastating communities and put an end to the violence and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.’ ends
The Mail has highlighted the UK’s county lines cancer which enslaves 10,000 children.