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 Herefordshire?
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 several active County Lines operating in Herefordshire. The Hereford Times reports that up to 10 county lines have recently been closed down across the county, as part of the West Midlands-wide Operation Ballet police initiative.
Superintendent Sue Thomas, Herefordshire Commander, said:
“We want to make it clear that supplying illegal drugs will not be tolerated, whether it's in big cities like Birmingham or being transported across county lines to more rural counties like Herefordshire.”
“We want to reassure the community that we will be continuing to build on this success and will continue to clamp down on offenders and make it clear that there will be consequences should they engage in dealing illegal drugs.”
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.