The Met took part in the latest national county lines intensification week, which ran from Monday, 11 October to Sunday, 17 October.
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.
Hundreds of officers from units and boroughs across the Met came together to target county lines gangs and safeguard the children and vulnerable adults they exploit.
The Met collaborated with multiple forces across the country resulting in:
123 vulnerable people safeguarded, including 96 children;
5kg of Class A drugs, plus 667 wraps;
More than 4kg of Class B drugs plus 667 wraps;
Two firearms, including one imitation and one unconfirmed;
17 knives, 1 hammer knife, 1 machete, 9 offensive weapons and 2 knuckle dusters;
40 county lines seized (removal of the county line handset and mobile number);
£131,600 in cash sterling and €451,000 in Euros;
£100,500 in criminal assets along with 45 vehicles.
The following was also seized throughout operations:
Officers executed 19 warrants in Tower Hamlets, which resulted in 19 arrests, the recovery of approximately 2kg of Class A drugs and more than £220,000 in cash and criminal assets seized.
As well as carrying out enforcement activity, the week also saw officers engage with communities in a bid to educate them about the issue and prevent individuals – especially young people – from getting involved.
Officers from the North West area (Brent, Harrow, Barnet) went on the anti-knife crime charity Hearts of Talent’s new online talk show by young people for young people, Heart 2 Hearts. Police spoke about county lines, how the gangs target, exploit and ‘trap’ teenagers and what the Met is doing to tackle the issue.
The Met is doing more than ever before to safeguard those exploited by county lines, including an increased use of modern slavery legislation to charge those at the top of the county lines chain.
The Met is also providing officers with more training to spot the signs of exploitation and it is also working with partners including The Children’s Society as part of an increased focus on safeguarding.
County lines is tackled by teams locally across the Met and by a central, specialist team funded by the Home Office called Operation Orochi.
Since November 2019, when Op Orochi was created, to the end of September 2021, teams across the Met have actively rescued 547 vulnerable people from exploitation, closed 596 lines, arrested 1,175 county lines line holders and associates and had 1,769 charges authorised for a range of offences including drug supply, modern slavery and weapon possession.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty, said: “County lines devastate lives, which is why we are absolutely committed to robustly tackling the issue head-on by arresting, charging and locking up the line-holders who cause misery for communities and those that they exploit.
“Once again we achieved some excellent results during the intensification week, including more than 120 vulnerable people – including 96 children – being safeguarded and freed from the line holder’s toxic grasp.
“The line holders hope that by using vulnerable children and adults as drugs runners they will shield themselves from identification and prosecution by law enforcement. This is because frequently, those exploited are too scared to assist police.
“However, we are able to pursue those involved with exploiting people for drug supply, irrespective of whether a victim assists the police or not. In fact, we have had many recent successes where we have done just this. Line-holders can no longer hide behind the vulnerable people they sacrifice for the ‘business.’ So line-holders be warned, you can expect a visit from us in the near future.”
Detective Superintendent Rick Sewart, from Op Orochi, said: “The week of action was an intensification of the work carried out by dedicated officers across the Met day-in day-out to tackle county lines, which brings misery to many communities across London.
“We see a significant amount of violence, often chaotic violence involving young people, linked to county lines, which is why tackling it remains a top priority for the Met.
“However, we cannot tackle it alone, which is why I would implore you share any information you have regarding drug dealing, exploitation, or violent crime in your area. We all have a responsibility to make London a safe place for everyone.”
The Children’s Society worked with forces including the Met to run its Look Closer campaign awareness week alongside the intensification week.
James Simmonds-Read, national programme manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, said:“Police have a vital role to play, not only in arresting and bringing to justice the predators grooming and exploiting children into county lines, but also in ensuring these victims of exploitation get the help they need.
“So we are pleased that many vulnerable young people have been identified as being in need of support in these operations.
“We support professionals including police officers from the Met and other forces, as well as social workers, to improve their responses in identifying child exploitation and protecting victims – but many more people encounter children in public spaces.
“Our Look Closer campaign highlights how everyone can help spot the signs of exploitation and report concerns and it has been brilliant to see Met officers taking part in our training and sharing this vital message in conversation with shops, businesses and residents.”
If you are concerned about drug-related crime in your area or think someone may be a victim of drug exploitation, please call us on 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.
If you would like to provide information anonymously, call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit crimestoppers-uk.org.
Young people can give information 100% anonymously by contacting the charity Fearless at www.fearless.org.
No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will not go to court or have to speak to police when contacting Crimestoppers or Fearless.
For more information on county lines and how to prevent yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim, visit www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/cl/county-lines.