More than 1,000 arrests during week-long crackdown on County Lines drug gangs

More than 1,000 people have been arrested and 292 weapons seized as part of a national crackdown on County Lines drug dealing gangs.

May 27, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Seized drugs

The intensification week took place between Monday, May 17, and Sunday, May 23, and included the execution of warrants, joint operations between forces and intercepting vehicles potentially involved in County Lines activity.

County Lines is the name given to drug dealing where criminals use phone lines to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas across the whole country.

The gangs exploit vulnerable people, including children and those with mental health or addiction issues, by recruiting them to distribute the drugs. They are controlled by being threatened with high levels of violence and intimidation.

County Lines gangs also exploit vulnerable adults by using their home as a base to deal drugs, which is known as cuckooing. The gangs often target people who are lonely, isolated or have addiction issues and offer them free drugs or to pay for their food and utilities in exchange for use of the address.

The National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC) was launched in August 2018, which is a partnership between the police and the National Crime Agency (NCA). The challenge faced by law enforcement was tackling a drugs model that worked across different forces. Policing activity at both ends of the line now sees importing and exporting forces working together to identify and arrest those controlling the lines.

Through better coordinated activity and an increased understanding, the number of potential County Lines has reduced since 2018.

The NCA have also been working with police and international law enforcement to prevent illegal drugs coming into the country. In 2020, the NCA and international partners seized and prevented more than 100 tonnes of Class A drugs entering the UK.

The latest strategic assessment from the NCLCC has been published which highlights key points including:

  • Police forces working together cross border on joint operations and coordinating activity to target both ends of the line;
  • Latest figures suggest there are 600 potential County Lines per month which is a reduction due to more accurate recording methods and improved police activity;
  • An increased focus on the line holder who coordinate the runners and often use violence to control them; and
  • Making use of modern slavery legislation to target the line holder and shifting the focus away from criminalising the runners who may be exploited.

National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for county lines, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty, said: “The police response to county lines has increased substantially over the past 18 months, we have been relentless in pursuing those behind the line whilst doing everything possible to rescue those being exploited.

“Intensification weeks like this allow us to dedicate a burst of activity and resources nationally, highlighting to the public our absolute determination to rid communities of this abhorrent crime.
“We will use all the powers available to us to tackle every element of the County LineS network because we know the effect violence and crimes associated with county lines can have in our communities.”

The NCA works with partners at the border and abroad to choke the supply of illegal drugs into the UK. Their recent successes around the intensification week include:

  • Launching an investigation after a Polish driver was stopped at Coquelles with 17kg of heroin in his lorry;
  • Seizing 500kg of cocaine in a shipping container at London Gateway and preventing it reaching UK streets;
  • Sentencing of a Dutch national lorry driver to 20 years for smuggling £20 million worth of cocaine into the UK; and
  • The charging of an HGV driver accused of smuggling £8.5 million of cocaine (107kg) into the UK on a ferry from Holland.

NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said: “The intensification week and assessment come after a very busy year for the NCA in stopping Class A drugs coming to the UK.

“We are proud to work with UK policing to fight the scourge of drugs which can devastate communities.

“It is a high priority for the NCA to build on the successes we have had in source countries and along the drugs supply routes, so that organised crime groups land fewer drugs in our towns and cities and prevent them being pushed further afield through county lines groups.”

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “We are determined to make our communities safer, which means removing illegal drugs from the streets, protecting vulnerable people, and putting the gangs exploiting them behind bars. County lines is a pernicious form of crime, where gangs to export illegal drugs from big cities to rural areas – often abusing vulnerable adults and children in the process.

“I saw first-hand how sophisticated our law enforcement approach was during the week of intensification – I joined a dawn police raid on a flat in London while over 150 miles away in Glastonbury, simultaneous arrests took place to ensure all those involved were brought to justice. These results are testament to the efforts of our law enforcement agencies, and they show the criminals and gangs running county lines that there’s nowhere to hide.”


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