In a bid to tackle county lines in Wiltshire, the county’s Dedicated Crime Teams are using a new tactic which is hitting offenders hard.

In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of children or vulnerable people being exploited and used as runners for drugs gangs based in major cities. In exchange for their ‘work’ these runners are bribed with expensive gifts such as trainers or designer clothes.

But all too often, these young people are not aware of the associated risks and serious penalties they could face if caught.

Detective Constable George Booth, of the North Dedicated Crime Team, said: “It’s sad, but often, we will see young people arrested, released under investigation while enquiries continue, and then continue to work as runners for county lines drugs gangs. Being arrested doesn’t seem to have any effect on them. But when we seize their expensive trainers under the Proceeds of Crime Act, we are essentially taking away what they have ‘worked for’ and we hope it will have an impact. For some of these young people, these trainers or designer clothes can be seen as a status symbol, and so losing that is pretty difficult for them to deal with.

“We will always deal robustly with anyone involved in the supply of class A drugs in order to show gangs from out of town that they cannot view our county as a soft target to commit crime in. As part of this, any items believed to have been obtained through criminal activity – whether that is phones, clothing, jewellery or cash – will be seized by our team.”

Sergeant Georgina Green, of the North DCT, added: “This is certainly one of the most visible signs that a young person is involved in county lines and is being exploited, and we’d encourage parents to be aware – is your child suddenly in possession of expensive footwear that they cannot account for? Ask questions and report any suspicions to police as they could be being exploited.

“We have seen young people from all different backgrounds become involved in county lines and the first their parents know about it is when we turn up on their doorstep. From the first moment they are recruited into these gangs, I don’t think these children know quite what risks they will be facing and by that time, it is too late and they are trapped. If they knew what they were falling into, they wouldn’t do it, so I would encourage parents to try and have that chat with their children – it shouldn’t be a chat we have with them at the time of their arrest.

“I’d also like to stress to young people, that you may well be offered £100 a day to work for these drugs gangs, but the risks just are not worth it – carrying weapons, transporting class A drugs to vulnerable drug addicts who will do anything to feed their habit, being threatened with violence and expected to travel at unsociable hours. If found in possession of an offensive weapon, you could face up to five years in prison so please think of the consequences.”

All this week, Wiltshire Police are raising awareness of county lines as part of the ‘Beyond the Beat’ campaign to highlight some of the hidden demands on modern day policing.

Their social media pages this week we will be sharing some of the signs the public can look out for if they have concerns a child or vulnerable adult is being exploited, or working as part of a county lines drug gang.

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