An awareness event in Morecambe on Saturday marks the start of a campaign to tackle city-based illegal drugs gangs infiltrating Lancashire towns.
Lancashire Constabulary has partnered with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan) to host an awareness event to publicise the issue of ‘county lines’.
‘County lines’ is where criminal gangs from cities across the country use a dedicated mobile phone line to co-ordinate illegal drug dealing with customers in towns many miles away.
Gangs often use young or vulnerable people to work as drugs runners, transporting and storing drugs and cash.
The launch event uses actors to demonstrate a county lines scenario between a young drugs runner, their concerned parent, and a gang member. Onlookers will witness a 15 minute performance showing the grooming that takes place between gang members and young people. The aim is to help members of the public to understand how victims, who may be family members, get involved and how to spot the signs that someone needs help.
The event is scheduled to take place at Morecambe’s Festival Market between 11am and 3pm on Saturday March 17 with the performances running approximately every hour from 11.15am.
Drugs runners are often young or vulnerable people who have been recruited using intimidation, deception, violence, debt bondage, or grooming.
During the grooming process the victims are likely to commit criminal offences.
Drugs runners are often deployed to market and coastal towns many miles away from their home by senior gang members who tend to stay at their urban base looking after the drugs line and co-ordinating activity.
Young recruits are usually teenagers but can be as young as 10 and vulnerable adults include drugs users, alcoholics, or those with mental health problems or learning difficulties.
They travel on their own on the rail network and risk their health by carrying drugs internally.
Gang members often use intimidation, violence, and weapons, including knives, corrosives, and firearms, making it difficult for their victims to get out of the situation.
Often the young people and vulnerable adults that are exploited have similar circumstances or backgrounds and can include drug and alcohol problems, mental health problems or learning difficulties and deprived backgrounds.
County lines criminality is a problem throughout the country and has been around for many years. There are now instances coming into Lancashire, particularly from Manchester, Liverpool, London, and West Yorkshire.
The nature of county lines activity means it crosses police boundaries and Lancashire Constabulary along with other forces throughout the North West and the country are working collaboratively to disrupt these organised crime networks.
The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness amongst members of the public to help individuals to spot the signs and encourage them to report any concerns in confidence through the CrimeStoppers anonymous line: 0800 555 111.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Barr, head of Titan, said: “This event will be an interactive and impactful way to highlight the issue of county lines to the people of Lancashire, and how to spot the possible signs that someone you know is at risk of being criminally exploited.
“The issue of county lines is becoming widespread across the region and further afield and by working alongside all communities, forces, and partners we want to educate parents, teachers, carers, and mental health professionals about how to identify some of the warning signs that vulnerable young people and adults are being used to deliver drugs and the ways you can report it to relevant agencies.”
Andrew Webster, Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent at Lancashire Constabulary, said: “County lines victims can be anyone in your community. Criminal gangs will exploit vulnerability in all of its forms to aid their activities. We can only combat this if members of the public understand what criminal exploitation is, how to spot the signs, and what to do if they think a person they know is being exploited.
“Intelligence from our communities is key to the police taking out the gangs responsible for this exportation of crime and exploitation of the vulnerable. So, I would encourage anyone who has concerns about young or otherwise vulnerable people being targeted in this way to come forward and speak to us, either directly or anonymously through Crimestoppers.”
Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Stopping criminal gangs who use young and vulnerable people, involving them in criminality which crosses into the county from elsewhere is a problem which we continue to see, with officers working harder than ever before to stop them blighting our communities.
“Working in partnership with organisations across Lancashire and the wider North West area is absolutely crucial due to the nature of the way these criminal gangs operate. Information from the public and partner agencies is often key to bringing those involved to justice, with campaigns like this helping people spot the signs of criminal exploitation and report it to the police.
“I know that the hard work and determination of our officers to keep the public safe means that no stone is left unturned in stopping serious and organised crime, a key part of my police and crime plan. It will not be tolerated here in Lancashire and we will strive to keep these gangs off our streets.”