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More than 1,600 arrested in police blitz on county lines drug dealers

For a week investigators targeted city gangs who exploit vulnerable youngsters to distribute drugs in towns and villages.

Police said they had shut down 250 county lines – the mobile telephone links gangs use to order and deliver their drugs to more rural areas.

Officers seized £1.2m worth of class A drugs, more than a million pounds in cash, 100 kilos of cannabis and 458 weapons, including 33 guns, 377 knives, three crossbows, 21 batons and 28 knuckle dusters.

In the wave of raids across England and Wales last week 710 people, including 58 children, were referred for safeguarding support as victims of exploitation.

Notoriously, county lines gangs pay youngsters to act as drugs runners and coerce other vulnerable people into storing drugs in their homes.

Commander Paul Brogden, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “County lines drug dealing destroys lives, and we are committed to tackling the supply of illegal drugs, and the exploitation and violence that is frequently associated with it.

“Our message is clear to anyone running county lines across the country – we will be relentless in our pursuit of you, we will shut down your county lines, we will take drugs off our streets, and we will rescue those who are being exploited by you.”

In a series of operations against county lines gangs since 2019, the Home Office said police have closed 4,755 lines, arrested 14,887 suspects and referred 7,267 children and other vulnerable people for safeguarding.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who joined West Midlands Police on raids earlier this month, said: “Vile thugs running county lines drug gangs blight our communities and groom the most vulnerable in society for their personal gain.

“Our police officers are working every day to break up these criminal networks pushing illegal drugs on our streets, and since April 2022 they have shut down over 1,700 county lines through the County Lines Programme.

“My message is clear. We will not tolerate illegal drugs of any kind, and we must rid our communities of these criminals.”

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