DRUG dealers sending addicts text messages advertising class A drugs got a shock when police took over their lucrative phone lines.
Officers targeting the scourge of county lines gangs in Portsmouth sent out 800 messages to addicts directing them to support services – forcing dealers to shut down.
Gangs wage war over controlling the phone numbers that can make up to £5,000 a day. They are used to advertise what drugs they have and users order by replying.
Children as young as 12 have been exploited into running drugs in the city taking the risk of being on the receiving end of violent reprisal attacks from rivals.
But between October 7-11 city police disrupted operations, directing addicts to get help and forcing the closure of two lines when dealers realised police had taken control.
In Portsmouth there were 14 arrests, three vulnerable people safeguarded and one raid carried out. Another raid was done in Gosport.
Overall 48 men and four women were arrested across Hampshire as part of the work organised by the National County Lines Coordination Centre.
Police said 20 vulnerable adults and children were protected. It was not clear if these people had been running drugs or were victims of dealers taking over their homes to use as a base of operations.
Across the county police seized a machete and two samurai swords - among 14 weapons found in all - along with £6,854 in cash and 46 mobile phones.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Heelan, based in Portsmouth, said: ‘We conducted a number of activities during the county lines week in Portsmouth and surrounding areas aimed at disrupting and dismantling drugs networks, who seek to exploit young and otherwise vulnerable members of society through violence, fear and intimidation.
‘We took over a number of county line phone lines sending around 800 text messages direct to users to support agencies while also making dealers aware we knew what they were using the number for.
‘In addition we safeguarded a number of vulnerable persons through visits and referrals to other agencies.’
Talks were carried out at schools across Hampshire. British Transport Police carried out operations at Southampton and Basingstoke train stations.
Temporary Superintendent Mark Lynch, tactical lead for drug-related harm, said: ‘We are committed to dismantling these networks and protect the young and vulnerable people who are exploited by criminals and are subject to violence, fear and intimidation.
‘This week will have been successful in disrupting the violent crime that is inherent in county lines activity, with conflict between competing drugs supply networks and the associated violence used to control vulnerable youngsters and dealers.
‘Our policing activity has intervened in dealers taking over properties of vulnerable people to deal drugs known as cuckooing.’
Anyone with information about drug dealing should call 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.