A new investigation in county lines drug gangs by Sky News has revealed that drug runners in the UK are operating 2,000 ‘county lines’ routes, in a business worth over £3 million per day.
The county lines gangs recruit young people from cities to transport class A drugs to market towns, coastal areas and rural locations. Ringleaders market the drugs to local users through mobile phone hotlines, whilst the young drug mules conduct the face to face sales.
Children aged 12-16 are paid £300 or £400 a week to distribute the drugs for the gangs.
During the investigation, Sky News was granted exclusive access to people involved in the trade, from wholesalers and drug mules to customers.
They met with drug wholesalers who talked about how they distributed knives to their child runners to protect themselves against rival dealers and talked about the rivalry between dealers over territory and warned that gangs have no worries about shooting or stabbing someone who affects their business.
Police are expected to announce that the number of known county lines has increased by a third to around 2000.
Despite the large of active routes across the UK, the police and specialist agencies have been working hard in cracking down on these criminals and have experienced recent success.
In a two-week operation led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and UK police forces, more than 500 suspects were arrested, 78 weapons seized, and 95 drug lines destroyed.
Whilst 250 vulnerable people involved in the drug running have been safeguarded, including a significant number of children.
The findings of the operation have led many to believe that the worrying increase in violent crimes, in particular, knife crime is at least partly due to these county lines gangs.
Vince O’Brien, Head of Drug Operations at the NCA, said: “Clearly high levels of violence are a concern. When people get drawn into criminal gangs, then the way in which those gangs resolve the disputes between them is with violence and that’s certainly part of the problem.
“One of the issues with the serious violence is violent competition between drugs gangs and stabbings, acid attacks and shootings can be part of that competition as they look to take over the market and that can be a real concern.”