Police 'dismantling criminal networks piece by piece'

Police have arrested more than 700 people and confiscated £400,000 worth of drugs during a UK-wide operation against County Lines gangs as they "dismantle criminal networks piece by piece".

Police have arrested more than 700 people and confiscated 400,000 worth of drugs during a UK-wide operation against County Lines gangs as they "dismantle criminal networks piece by piece".

The National Crime Agency also revealed 12 guns were among 169 weapons seized, while 49 "deal lines" were disrupted by officers in the two-week crackdown.

A total of 652 men and 91 women were arrested during the operation, coordinated by the Home Office-funded National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC) and set up to target gangs exploiting children to sell drugs through so-called County Lines. This is where criminals set up dedicated mobile phone lines to take orders from drug users. Usually they are operated by gangs from big cities who have expanded into smaller towns.

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Young and vulnerable people are often used to act as drug runners or have their homes taken over, or "cuckooed", to be used as drug dens. As part of the operation, police visited 665 cuckooed addresses.

Forty-one referrals were also made to the National Referral Mechanism, which identifies potential victims of human trafficking.

Here in Yorkshire, the county's largest force - West Yorkshire Police - arrested 32 men and one woman, as well as recovering class A drugs including cocaine and MDMA. Officers also confiscated £18,000 and seized a number of weapons including air powered pistols, a starting pistol samurai swords, a machete and other knives.

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Force Drugs Co-ordinator, Jess Clayton, said: “As a Force we have carried out a great deal of enforcement activity and enforcement work to safeguard vulnerable people.

“We have also carried out a lot of education activity, delivering 75 inputs reaching approximately 11,700 people, handed out leaflets outlining the key aspects of county lines crime in 65 areas and had an ad-van out covering every single district in West Yorkshire.

“This shows just how seriously we treat the issue.

By looking out for potential warning signs, parents / carers and guardians can help protect their children from those who want to take advantage of them for criminal gain.

Humberside Police arrested seven men and two women and also seized a "significant amount" of class A and B drugs, while in North Yorkshire six arrests were made.

North Yorkshire Police carried out 53 welfare visits to cuckooing victims and safeguarded 16 adults.

Officers also targeted public transport providers to raise awareness of how to spot children who may have been exploited and are travelling to North Yorkshire to sell drugs.

Duncan Ball, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for County Lines, said: "We will not treat the criminals who run these lines just as drug dealers.

"We will work tirelessly to prosecute them for these offences but also, where we have the evidence, we will seek to prosecute them for child trafficking under modern slavery laws to reflect the devastating nature of their exploitation of young and vulnerable people."