UPDATE: Merseyside Police and four other forces arrested 56 in crackdown on County Lines
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Officers from five different forces have joined together to target those involved in County Lines from Merseyside into Lancashire, Cumbria and Scotland.
Yesterday (Tuesday, 25 February) Merseyside Police were supported by British Transport Police (BTP) as well as officers from Lancashire, Cumbria and Police Scotland and 56 people were arrested for various drugs offences.
Together they carried out raids at addresses of those believed to be involved in County Lines drugs supply, whilst at the same time targeting County Lines offenders using the railway, bus stations and the motorway network spanning from Merseyside to the Scottish borders. Police in Scotland were also on hand at Aberdeen Airport to bring offenders back down to earth and face the reality of their criminality.
Officers from the BTP specialist County Lines Taskforce were deployed at Liverpool Lime Street station, Wigan North Western station and Preston station as well as on board trains travelling up to Scotland. Elsewhere in Scotland, a quantity of cocaine was recovered along with over £1000 and numerous phones at one address whilst a Project Servator deployment was carried out at Aberdeen Airport.
Yesterday's operation, code named “Project Medusa”, is a Merseyside-led initiative, which saw 14 warrants executed across each of the four force areas; four in Merseyside (Stockbridge Village Old Swan, Netherton and Toxteth), five in Lancashire (Preston, Morecambe, Lancaster and Blackpool), one in Cumbria (Workington) and four in Scotland (Aberdeen and Perth). Officers arrested 36 people on Merseyside; ten from Lancashire; two in Cumbria and five in Scotland. Officers from British Transport Police arrested three people on the rail network.
Officers have also recovered significant quantities of Class A drugs, cash (more than £20,000 was recovered from one address in Liverpool) and phones. An imitation firearm was also recovered from an address in Lancashire.
The operation follows three successful Project Medusa operations conducted by Merseyside Police with other force areas including Cumbria, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Northumbria and North Wales where a number of arrests and seizures of drugs, weapons and mobile phones were carried out along with a number of stop searches. At the end of January Home Secretary Priti Patel joined officers on Merseyside as warrants were executed and a total of 16 people were arrested and 87 stop searches were carried out around the North West and North Wales.
Talking about today’s activity, ACC Ian Critchley said: "We have seen considerable success through this kind of targeted action in recent months and weeks and it is vital that we keep up this level of activity. As a result of the activity yesterday 56 people were arrested for various drugs offences and seven vulnerable people were referred for safeguarding
"Those responsible for these County Lines bring misery to our local communities through their drug dealing and they also target and coerce young and vulnerable people into doing their dirty work. Here on Merseyside we have arrested 112 people and shutdown 32 County Lines since November last year.
"Project Medusa, hits the criminals hard, but when it comes to the young and vulnerable people, who have been criminally exploited, we ensure that they are treated sensitively and with understanding.
"Working with existing partnerships including Everton in the Community, LFC Foundation and other local partners we are able to refer these victims for educational programmes, psychological and emotional support and pathways which help them to forge a new life for themselves away from the degrading world of County Lines. We also work with our partners in the voluntary sector and organisations like Catch 22, Protect (Liverpool), the My Time Project and other outreach workers who are able to provide interventions to prevent young people from becoming involved in County Lines.
"We are determined to sever the County Lines that blight our communities and the recently created Violence Reduction Partnership (which consists of representatives from Merseyside Police, the Health Service, all five local authorities), is looking at long term strategies to see how a public health approach can help prevent people from becoming involved in County Lines."
Detective Chief Inspector Becky Smith of Lancashire Police, said: "Every day we are working pro-actively to gather intelligence and carry out operations to both target county lines drug dealers and to identify those at risk from this type of criminality.
“Working cross border with other police forces and a range of other agencies is key in disrupting and dismantling county lines and putting offenders behind bars. We are sending out a strong message that this criminality activity will not be tolerated and that we will continue to work together with our partners and regional forces to disrupt anyone involved in county lines and bring them to justice.
“To do this we need intelligence coming from our communities to alert us to potential drugs activity so that we can investigate and bring organised gangs to justice, as well as safeguarding people, particularly children, who have been exploited and are victims."
Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: "I’ve seen first hand the vital work the police are doing to disrupt county lines gangs and it’s great to see them continuing to deliver these impressive results.
“The police will always have my full support, and we will continue to bolster their ranks with 20,000 extra police officers.
“I will not tolerate these abhorrent gangs that exploit children and vulnerable people and we will do everything in our power to tackle this issue head on.”
Detective Chief Inspector Brett Walker, of the British Transport Police, said: “Our Taskforce works day in, day out, identifying train routes used by drug gangs, then using that knowledge to disrupt that activity.
“We carry out operations across England, Wales and Scotland constantly and always without warning. This has proven to be very successful with more than 140 arrests since December.
“These operations today are another example of the police forces nationwide working together to crack down on anyone using transport hubs, whether it’s by train, bus, motorway or airport, to move drugs across the country.”
Detective Inspector Helen Norrie of Police Scotland said: "Police Scotland is absolutely determined to continue to work with a wide range of our partners and police colleagues across the country to target those who deal drugs and exploit the most vulnerable people in our communities.
"Our pro-active and co-ordinated activity during Project Medusa shows the real value and success we continue to achieve in targeting those involved in this type of criminality.
"We will strive to ensure we protect those in our communities who may be coerced or intimidated by cowardly individuals. The public can also play a part in this and I would urge anyone who believes an individual or property in their community is being exploited by criminals to come forward."
Detective Inspector Patrick McDonnell of Cumbria Police, said: " County lines is an exploitive type of drug supply that devastates local communities. The actions of today’s Project Medusa sends a strong message that we are determined to tackle it. Working together with other forces cross border is vital in ensuring that we catch the criminals involved right the way up from the lowest level to the people at the top of the chain.
Today is about showing drug dealers that the police will do all in our power to bring them to justice and in relation to anyone tempted to use or addicted to illegal drugs - please do not get involved with these criminals and seek medical help.
If you feel that you or someone you know is being targeted by drug dealers or you have any information which may help, please contact the police on 101 or 999.”Anyone with information which could assist our investigation into County Lines criminality can DM @MerPolCC, call 101 or contact the Crimestoppers line anonymously on 0800 555 111.