County Lines Week of Action in Merseyside sees arrests, safeguarding and seizures
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Officers, working with our partners across Merseyside, have carried out a week of action as part of a continued national focus tackling the issue of County Lines.
The week of action was co-ordinated by the National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC), and focusses on pursuing offenders, safeguarding and protecting the vulnerable, reducing the number of effective county lines, seizing proceeds of crime, and educating professionals who work with young people and vulnerable adults across the county.
County Lines is the process through which criminal gangs typically use children and vulnerable adults to transport and/or deal drugs to customers. People are recruited using intimidation, deception, violence, debt bondage or grooming and the ‘victims’ are likely to commit criminal offences during the process.
To date, officers in Merseyside have arrested 32 people, identified and engaged with more than 100 vulnerable people, and seized drugs and weapons.
Along with arrests and safeguarding of those believed to be involved, officers across the force and our housing and other partners have been carrying out talks in schools, visits to care home providers, taxi companies and foster carers to continue raising knowledge amongst those who may encounter those who are at risk of exploitation.
Some of the notable operational activity included:
In Liverpool, an extensive operation with British Transport Police at Liverpool Lime Street station and the surrounding networks led to 136 stop searches, weapons recovered and ten people arrested on suspicion of drug supply, including:
• A 25-year-old man of no fixed abode was detained at Lime Street station and found to be in possession of a large block of crack cocaine.
• A 45-year-old man from Alsager in Cheshire was detained at Lime Street Station and found in possession of suspected cocaine and heroin following a search. Both men remain under investigation pending further enquiries.
• Two boys from Runcorn, aged 16 and 17, were detained and found to be in possession of drugs, suspected of being supplied to Cheshire. The investigation is ongoing.
In Knowsley, a drugs warrant in Huyton led to the arrest of a 19-year-old male on suspicion of possession with intent to supply cannabis. He remains under investigation.
In Wirral, eleven people were arrested on suspicion of drug supply and other offences. More than 20 potentially vulnerable people were also identified, with various safeguarding measures put in place.
In Sefton, officers attended a property in Netherton due to information about suspected criminal exploitation of the occupier. A man and woman from Netherton were found at the premises and drugs were seized. A 53-year-old woman from Netherton remains under investigation. No further police action was taken against the occupier, who is now being supported by local housing.
Five men were also arrested and charged in connection with an ongoing operation, which is part of a wider investigation into County Lines drug supply to South Wales:
34-year-old Ahmed Sabbagh of Bideford Avenue, Perivale, Greater London
49-year-old Alan Edwards of Croxteth Road, Toxteth
35-year-old Neil Christopher of Boswell Street, Toxteth
35-year-old Wadah Alwi of Vandyke Street, Toxteth
27-year-old David Hutchinson of no fixed abode
All five were charged with conspiracy to possess a firearm without a certificate. Sabbagh, Edwards, Christopher and Alwi have all previously been charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs in the County Lines linked to South Wales, and will next appear at Liverpool Crown Court for trial in December.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Reardon said: “Arresting and safeguarding people is just one element of this complex issue, and is clearly a necessary measure to target those who threaten and exploit the vulnerable to further their own criminal businesses. We cannot enforce our way of this problem, but working with our partners and our community, we will do our best to ensure that those responsible are removed from our communities and put before the courts.
“More than anything, we hope that continued local and national publicity of the County Lines issue keeps raising awareness of how to spot the signs, and to show young and vulnerable people in our communities that there is help available to you, from various agencies, and pathways to remove you from a potentially harmful situation.
“These dangerous criminals who use young people to further their drugs trade are abusing vulnerable children. They are child abusers.
“Merseyside Police works with many different organisations in the issues around County Lines. In July, we launched Operation Target to tackle serious and violent crime, funded with £4.2m from the Home Office’s £100m Serious Violence Fund, which supports work tackling serious and organised crime, including the criminal exploitation of vulnerable people.
“We're also one of eight police forces who have introduced Serious and Organised Crime Community Prevent Coordinators under the Home Office Serious and Organised Crime Strategy 2018. Their role is to work with partners to develop pathways away from serious and organised crime, so that young people vulnerable to criminal exploitation do not become involved. They work tirelessly with partners and communities in those neighbourhoods most affected, providing opportunities for young people to prevent them becoming exploited.
“The Merseyside Youth Alliance, which encompasses organisations doing great work with young people, has also had significant funding to deliver programmes across Merseyside. We have also reinvested money seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act into our communities with our Community Cashback Fund. These schemes include the Serious Organised Crime Insight Programme for Years 9-11 from schools in communities where young people are vulnerable to criminal exploitation, supported by Everton in the Community. We have also partnered the Liverpool FC Foundation 'On-Side' Programme, to engage with students and provide them with key skills, confidence and the resilience needed to overcome obstacles and choose the right pathways in life. We also work closely with our other partners the Princes Trust and Shrewsbury House youth club in Everton to deliver many similar activities.
“Using all of these methods and all of our policing powers, we want those at risk of exploitation to have the knowledge and confidence to break free, and for others in our communities to be aware of the signs so they can report concerns immediately.
"Help us tackle it by providing the necessary information. If you don't want to speak to police you can use social workers, health workers, housing agencies or Crimestoppers. Once we have the information we will respond to it."
Signs of criminal exploitation and county lines include:
• Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
• Being found in areas away from home
• Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
• Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
• Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
• Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
• Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
• Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
• Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
• Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.
How to spot possible victims
• There are several signs to look out for when someone has been lured into this activity, these include:
• Change in behaviour
• Signs of assault and/or malnutrition
• Access to numerous phones
• Use of unusual terms e.g. going country
• Associating with gangs
• Unexplained bus or train tickets
• School truancy or going missing
• Unexplained gifts (clothes, trainers) and cash
What are the signs of cuckooing?
• Signs that 'cuckooing' may be going on at a property include:
• An increase in people entering and leaving.
• An increase in cars or bikes outside
• Possible increase in anti-social behaviour
• Increasing litter outside
• Signs of drugs use
• Lack of healthcare visitors
If you spot any of these signs you can speak to local police on 101 or call 999 in an emergency. If you’d rather stay anonymous you can call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, or speak to other organisations, including your housing provider or youth groups, who know how to deal with this information.