Meet the dog leading the fight against drug dealers coming into Portsmouth

IT’S not long before five-year-old Skye’s sharp nose has honed in on a suspicious package.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:32 pm
Skye the drugs dog Picture: Habibur Rahman

Sniffing at the 45-year-old as he walked onto the platform at a Portsmouth train station, the Labrador-cross police dog is on the trail for any illegal drugs and sits down – indicating to her handler she’s found something.

Officers from British Transport Police, backed up by some of Hampshire’s public order-trained police, are quick to carry out a search.

They find a capsule from a Kinder Egg toy – favoured by drug users and dealers alike to conceal substances – filled with cannabis.

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Skye the drugs dog Picture: Habibur Rahman

It’s enough to warrant officers taking down the details of the man and they’ll deal with him later - but it’s not the kind of drug police are trying to find at the station.

Dealers carrying heroin and crack cocaine coming down from London, and other big cities, are the valued targets of Skye, her Ministry of Defence police handler and both plain clothes and uniformed officers.

As part of a week of action against county lines gangs - whose leaders recruit and force vulnerable younger members to run class A drugs into smaller towns and cities - police were out in force at the train station in Portsmouth.

Since 2017 a dedicated team in Portsmouth has been tackling the scourge of county lines, making more than 100 arrests and taking lethal weapons off the street. It was set up following a spate of stabbings.

Skye the drugs dog Picture: Habibur Rahman

Rail is one of the tried and tested routes, along with major roads like the A3 up to London, used by gangs who send out operatives to service addicts - often bringing misery and violence along with them.

Ownership of the valuable lines can net dealers higher up the chain making them thousands of pounds – with the possession of the valuable phone number used to bulk text advertise to addicts viciously guarded.

Portsmouth has seen serious attacks on rival dealers, with one street runner shot in the face in otherwise leafy Crookhorn.

Superintendent Matthew Reeves, tactical lead for county lines was at the Portsmouth station with The News.

Picture: Habibur Rahman

He said: ‘It’s a business model of supplying drugs into regional force areas like ours from urban conurbations, in particular London because of the proximity to there.

‘And this tactic involves not just the problem of drug dealing in its own right but it’s particularly problematic as it involves exploiting vulnerable children and adults, and high levels of violence that often goes with it as well.

‘It’s really important as it poses a significant threat to our communities here, and we have to focus our efforts and put our resources into the issues that cause the most harm and this is right up there as one of those issues.

‘It’s important to note it’s not just the cities they’re dealing into, we’re experiencing this issue in all the towns in our area - one particular feature is an issue called cuckooing where a person will come and take over a vulnerable person’s address and set up their operations for often very short periods of time from that base and really exploit that individual into using their home.

‘We really would appeal to members of the public to look out for those kind of people in the community to know their neighbours and vulnerability - if they see people who don’t look familiar with the area, don’t really know where they’re going, perhaps calling at the address for a short period of time and then going away again - they might be indicators of county lines drug supply going on.’

Vulnerable people are being used to trafficking the drugs – including children as young as 12.

Inspector Sarah White, from BTP, said: ‘Tackling county lines and its consequences are a national priority for the British Transport Police - and we’ve been working with our partners trying to identify and target those responsible.

‘Unfortunately drugs gangs are responsible for high levels of violence and the exploitation of vulnerable children and adults, and this action is working to protect those involved.

‘The harm that county lines gangs sometimes inflict can be significant, so we’re focusing our resources to try and spot these offenders and tackle them as they use the national rail network.

‘During these activities we hope to develop intelligence around offending and ensure we do all we can for those vulnerable people and safeguard from harm.

Insp White added: ‘We’re concentrating as we should be more and more on safeguarding, we’ve identified there are vulnerable groups involved in the county line activity and it’s not right and we need to do something about it – and rightly so.

‘Sadly there are children involved, and also vulnerable adults. Unfortunately individuals are targeting those that are vulnerable and potentially more persuadable than others. That’s what makes it such an important issue for us.

‘I think for the public in general – it’s vulnerable individuals who are being targeted and potentially coming to significant harm.’

Supt Reeves added the problem is growing – if only because police are untangling the complicated web of people being exploited.

He said: ‘What we see is when we look at an issue like this, particularly when it involves vulnerable people, the more we find – finding out more information. It does appear to be growing, but that might be because our knowledge base is growing.’