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Arrests made as police target county lines networks

News   •   Apr 20, 2021 16:00 BST

[Officers on this morning's raids]

Officers investigating the exploitation of young and vulnerable individuals into county lines activity have carried out a series of early morning warrants on Tuesday, 20 April and arrested five people.

A total of eight addresses were targeted simultaneously across London, Hampshire and Berkshire. Three men and two women, aged between 20 and 40 years old, have been arrested on suspicion of offences including conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and modern slavery.

Searches of the addresses continue but officers have so far found a machete, Class B drugs and a rapier sword.

The investigation was launched in January this year after officers identified a ring of people involved in widespread drug supply across the southeast of England through county lines.

The early stages of the investigation led officers to believe young children and extremely vulnerable adults were being used to deal drugs along the county lines. They secured evidence to suggest these individuals were being held against their will in order to clear debts owed to the group.

The investigating team worked tirelessly to identify suspects through CCTV, ANPR and extensive cell phone analysis. The operation has so far resulted in four young children and vulnerable people being rescued. They are currently being looked after by specialist officers.

The operation involved more than 150 officers from the Metropolitan Police Service, Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police.

Sergeant Tom Freeman from the Met’s Proactive Gangs Unit, which leads the investigation, said: “This morning’s activity is a culmination of months of hard work by officers across three different police forces. The operation focused on rescuing children and vulnerable people who had no option to do as they were told through fear of violence from those controlling them.

“The evidence we’ve gathered leads us to believe they were being held against their will until they paid off debts they did not create in the first place. Those involved in this activity entirely manipulated the vulnerabilities of these individuals for their own financial gain – a common trait of county lines lineholders.

“We know county lines activity is closely linked to violence we see on the streets of London and other parts of the United Kingdom. Not only have we rescued vulnerable people from violence and exploitation, but by disrupting this drug supply line we’ve destroyed the business model of this group and hopefully prevented violent incidents occurring in the future.”

All those arrested have been taken to police stations in London and Hampshire. The Metropolitan Police Service lead the investigation.

Inspector Richard Lane from Hampshire Constabulary, which supported the operation, said: “County lines and its associated violence can cause misery in our communities, and it is right that we put significant effort into dismantling these networks and safeguarding vulnerable people who have been exploited in this trade.

“We will continue to work with our partners to identify those responsible and target these drug dealing networks in north Hampshire and across the force area.”

Detective Inspector John Wordsworth, from Thames Valley Police, which aided the operation, said: “County lines drugs has a significant impact on our communities and often those who profit from drugs are exploiting children and vulnerable adults in order to do so.

“We are committed to tackling county lines drugs and this operation should be a reminder that police forces will work together across borders in order to stop this pernicious activity.

“We will also continue to work in partnership to protect those who are exploited by county lines drugs gangs.

“The public also have an important role to play in providing information that can assist us in dismantling county lines drugs lines and also safeguard vulnerable individuals.”

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The below were arrested following the warrants:

[A] a 40-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A and Class B drugs and on suspicion of money laundering.

[B] a 24-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs and on suspicion of securing services from children and vulnerable persons under the Modern Slavery Act 2002.

[C] a 38-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs and on suspicion of securing services from children and vulnerable persons under the Modern Slavery Act 2002.

[D] a 37-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs and on suspicion of securing services from children and vulnerable persons under the Modern Slavery Act 2002.

[E] a 20-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs and on suspicion of securing services from children and vulnerable persons under the Modern Slavery Act 2002.