As part of their ‘Beyond the Beat’ summer-long campaign, Wiltshire Police have recently been working hard to raise awareness of Country Lines and you may have read some of the recent Adver articles helping to highlight the issue. County Lines is the term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas in the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines.
These gangs often exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money, and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons. Gangs based in cities like London are targeting the most vulnerable people in towns across the country, including Swindon, to sell class A drugs on their behalf.
This type of behaviour is a significant threat to our community and will not be tolerated. It's one of the many hidden demands on our police force and in my role as Solicitor General, I have been involved in tackling this issue directly.
I am glad that the Home Secretary has recently announced a multi-million-pound Government commitment to steering young people away from crime and tackling violent gangs.
As part of the Serious Violence Strategy, the Home Secretary has announced that £3.6m will be used to establish a National County Lines Coordination Centre. The funding will help tackle the threat posed by County Lines and enable police forces up and down the country to work together to strengthen enforcement and prevention approaches to ensure the most vulnerable people in our society are protected.
The Serious Violence Strategy marks a major shift in the approach to recent rises in knife and gun crime and is being supported by £40 million of Home Office funding.
Early intervention and prevention are crucial if we are to tackle violent crime and I welcome key Government commitments, which include £11m for an early intervention programme to help young people and young adults to live positive lives away from violence.
I would urge members of the public to be vigilant and look out for some of the most visible signs that County Lines drugs gangs are operating in neighbourhoods and to report this to police. Signs to look out for:
Has a child or young person gone missing from school or home?
Are they meeting with unfamiliar adults?
Have you noticed a change in their behaviour?
Are they using drugs and alcohol?
Has there been a breakdown in relationships with family and friends?
This could be a sign that they are being coerced and controlled to commit crime. Call 101 to report it.
Drug dealers will often take over the homes of vulnerable people as they use it as a base to deal drugs in the area. The vulnerable person may be being kept inside against their will.
Have you noticed more people calling at an address? Sometimes at unsociable hours?
Have you noticed a neighbour has not been seen for a while?
Are there suspicious smells coming from an address?
Are there suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles outside the address?
Cuckooing could be taking place. Look out for your neighbours and report suspicions to 101.
Finally, you may have read in the Adver recently that there have been concerns about the safety of school children crossing Eastcott Road here in Old Town following the retirement of the lollipop man. I have been in regular contact with the Headteacher at King William Street Primary School about this issue and following the approval of revised plans for the redevelopment of the old Stagecoach bus depot on Eastcott Hill, I have written to the developers to explore the option of section 106 money being used to create a school zone and safe crossing on Eastcott Road. I will continue to work closely with the head and parents regarding this matter.