County lines: Home Secretary Priti Patel warns gang leaders 'we're coming after you'

September 16, 2020

Criminals who organise and run county lines drugs operations have been warned by the home secretary: "We're coming after you".

More than 2,600 people have been arrested since the government made an additional £25m available to tackle the criminal gangs who run drugs from major cities to towns across the country.

The home secretary said the government was determined to ensure that authorities go after the "head of the snake", targeting those responsible for preying on the vulnerable and fuelling much of the violent crime playing out on the country's streets.

"I said a year ago, this would be a priority for us. I've put money into this, deliberately targeted cash and resources for policing, to go after the head of the snake when it comes to these county lines operations," Ms Patel told Sky News.

The additional government money has allowed three major forces with significant county lines networks to devote extra resources to the problem.

It has allowed Merseyside, West Midlands and the Metropolitan Police to work more closely with county forces, whose areas are being targeted by drug supply lines from urban areas.

The home secretary added: "We specifically set up programmes in three lead police forces and they're now working with county forces as well, looking at the routes where they can track the county lines, the drug runners and also the telephone numbers which are effectively these county lines.

"Our objective is to roll up these county lines and the number of arrests in the last year has almost doubled. We've now had more than 2,600 arrests and some 3,000 vulnerable individuals have been safe-guarded."

The operation in south London targeted a young man police allege was involved in running a county line from the capital to Horsham in West Sussex.

A team of officers from Sussex joined their Met colleagues on the operation.

The Met's deputy assistant commissioner Graham McNulty told Sky News: "We are identifying the line holders.

"These are the individuals that are often in the shadows, sometimes they're not touching the drugs themselves, but in the background they're exploiting young and vulnerable people.

"They're taking the profits from the county line and leaving a trail of misery and mayhem from the violence that comes from county lines. So our focus, across the country, is absolutely to take out the line holders.

"They may have felt this was a low risk, high reward enterprise and what the police are now doing is turning this on its head.

"You only need to look in London since November, where we've arrested 228 people suspected of being line holders."

Ms Patel said that tackling the illegal drugs trade was a top priority for the government, because of the violent crime that flows from it.

She said that the additional investment in allowing police to go after the county lines organisers was beginning to pay off.

"We are definitely turning the corner. That's because of the intensification of the work and the resourcing.

"Arrests like this are now happening every single day. We're going after the kingpins, their money, the phones, the weaponry and obviously that should culminate in a reduction of serious high harm crime.

"The number of weapons that are associated with drug lines and drug runners, from knives to machetes, to firearms, we've seen this before and it's absolutely right we get them off the streets.

"We want to go after the criminals. We want those criminals to fear our operations," she said.

The man arrested in this latest policing operation has now been taken to Sussex for questioning over allegations he was involved in running a drug line from south London to West Sussex.

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