Police take over drug dealers’ phone numbers and then text users in a new fight against the county lines gangs.
Officers in Sussex have become the first in the country to test a pioneering new tool that allows them to get phone lines turned over to their control. Drug dealing telecommunications restriction orders (DDTROs) mean that officers can disrupt the flow of messages between dealers and users, and therefore the flow of drugs.
Detective Superintendent Jo Banks, the senior detective leading the fight against county lines drug gangs in Sussex, said: “It’s a disruptions tool. But actually what we are then doing is messaging out to the users from that line to say what the alternatives are for them to actually get some help and try and get out of providing that demand for the drugs line in the first place.
“We would never say it’s the golden goose, it’s never the answer. But actually as a disruption tactic it is very useful.”
As officers seek to clamp down on “cuckooing” of vulnerable people’s homes by drug dealers, gangs have started to operate from Airbnbs and hotel rooms. “People need to be aware, particularly if they own the Airbnb, if they’ve got second homes or whatever, and they’re hiring them out, actually what they’re being used for,” said Ms Banks.
The move has come as new research shows that thousands of children are being placed in unregulated care homes, where they are at risk of exploitation of sexual predators and drug gangs.
This is significant because a recent parliamentary inquiry into children being used to traffic drugs found that 80% of 41 police forces in England and Wales expressed concerns about unregulated accommodation. Ms Banks said that dealers often have “eyes and ears on the ground” and know the places where children hang around.
“They know who they’re looking for,” she said.
“They know how to spot kids that they can approach who are then going to take the free deal and then become hooked into this world.”
County Lines recruitment
Research released by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on Thursday shows that thousands of people aged between 11 and 62 have been drawn into so-called county lines gangs.
More than 4,000 people in London have been recruited by drug gangs with networks spread across 41 counties in the UK, figures show.
The criminal networks deliberately target children and vulnerable adults to courier drugs from urban bases out to customers across the country, running phone lines to take orders.