Police: every town in Hampshire has been targeted by ‘county lines’ drug dealers
Every town in Hampshire has been infiltrated by ruthless drugs gangs exploiting children to run crack cocaine and heroin to addicts, a senior police officer has warned – as it was revealed that officers seized drugs worth more than £28,600 during a week of action.
The clampdown in Portsmouth and across England was co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency against county lines gangs, whose members spread their trade from major cities to smaller towns.
Drug dealers have poured into Hampshire from major cities, pushing vulnerable adults and children as young as 12 out into the streets and bringing violence and misery with them.
Hampshire police said in the last week they have arrested 35 people, and seized £12,230 in cash. In total in the county they found 198g of suspected crack cocaine, worth £12,700 on the street; 147g of heroin worth about £14,700, 187g of cannabis worth £1,200, as well as a Taser and two knives.
Superintendent Matthew Reeves, tactical lead for county lines drugs gangs at Hampshire Constabulary, warned: ‘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.’
In Portsmouth nine people were arrested with one charged, and 114g of crack and 94g of suspected heroin was seized.
In Waterlooville, there were three arrests and £713 in cash and five mobile phones were seized.
Gosport saw one arrest, 6g of cannabis seized along with £545 in cash and two mobile phones.
Supt Reeves, who led the Hampshire operations in the last week, added: ‘[County lines] 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.
‘County lines isn’t isolated to large UK cities, this is a real issue which is affecting Hampshire along with other areas in the country.
‘It’s not only the obviously vulnerable who are groomed for county lines. Young people from all backgrounds have been groomed for transporting and dealing drugs.’
County lines dealing sees gangs set up supply chains into towns and cities, recruiting local youngsters to start drug dealing, and then using fear to keep them on the streets. There is often a dedicated phone line for the operation, and the process will often see the gang take over the home of a vulnerable person to use as a base – a practice known as cuckooing.
Det Chief Insp Paul Southey, from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: ‘Those involved in county lines networks not only exploit the most vulnerable people in society, but their criminality has a wide and far-reaching effect across society.’