POLICE have issued a warning that ‘County Lines’ drug dealers continue to operate Somerset – devastating the lives of children while posing a threat to our communities.
And they are appealing to people working in the transport industry to know the signs of their activity and criminal child exploitation, and to report them as soon as possible.
The warning comes just a week after two men from London were jailed for a combined total of nearly nine years for their role in a County Lines operation which brought class A drugs into Bridgwater.
A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset police said: “Children travelling in taxis, private hire vehicles, buses, and/or trains, may be being exploited by gangs involved in drug crimes.
“At a time where we are being told to only travel for essential reasons such as work, the signs of County Lines activity on the transport network may be easier to spot.
“County Lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs from bigger cities into one or more smaller towns in the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines.
“These drug gangs will target young children, grooming them into a life of selling class A drugs, often taking them away from their families and subjecting them to continuous threats and violence.”
Supt Kerry Paterson, force lead for County Lines operations, said: “We’re living in a time when travelling across the country is extremely limited and the majority of us are only boarding trains for essential journeys.
“However, the drug gangs are still operating and using our public transport networks to carry illegal substances from one end of the country to the other. Many of these drug gangs will use children to carry, store and sell drugs for them.
“We’ve have made real progress in disrupting County Lines in the region and have successfully made some areas of the force hostile for them to come and operate in.
“We are working closely with other forces and transport links to disrupt County Lines activity but we need your help to put a stop to it.
“We need to be asking ourselves whether it’s normal to be seeing a young child travelling by themselves on public transport, especially at the moment. If you see a young person travelling long distances alone, possibly at a strange hour, and avoiding the police or the ticket officer, and you feel something isn’t quite right – trust your instinct. This child could be a victim of criminal exploitation.
“By being able to spot a few tell-telling signs and reporting this to us, you could be helping us to save a young person’s life. County Lines is an ever-growing issue that can have a devastating impact on children.
“They will often be expertly groomed by ruthless gangs who will sell them a dream: lots of money, expensive trainers, flashy cars and valuable watches.
“The reality, however, is quite different. Children will find themselves trapped into an existence of cutting and selling drugs day in and day out.
“They will live in disgusting conditions, unable to wash, sleep or eat and they will be under constant threat of violence, perpetually subjected to dangerous people who will make them lose ties with friends and facility.
“Putting an end to County Lines activity and protecting the vulnerable is a priority for our police force. We’re dedicated to get our children out of harm’s way and keep them safe from crime.
“By reporting any suspicious signs that you think could be linked to County Lines activity, you will help us to take a step further towards improving our understanding of how these criminals work and ultimately, help us get them off our streets”.
Signs of County Lines on public transport including taxi, bus, or train:
- A child, sometimes as young as 12, travelling alone
- Child travelling alone during school hours or unusual hours (early morning, late at night)
- Child travelling an unusually long distance alone by taxi and paying for the journeys in cash.
- Child seemingly not familiar with the local area, and/or with a different accent.
- Children travelling the same route on a regular basis (once or twice a week) via train or bus.
- Receiving excessive texts or phone calls
- Deliberately avoiding authority figures such as police officers or railway staff
- Some may be with older individuals who are purchasing train or bus tickets for them. Or giving them money for tickets.
Other signs of County Lines activity:
- Child or young person gone missing from school or home.
- Child meeting with unfamiliar adults
- Changes in attitude and/or behaviour
- Using drugs and/or alcohol
- A sudden breakdown in relationships with family and friends
- Acquiring new possessions such as trainers, clothes, gadgets
- Unexplained injuries
- Young people seeming unfamiliar with your community or local area.