Campaign highlights rise of "county lines" drugs gangs
A NEW campaign has been launched by the Crimestoppers charity and Cumbria police and crime commissioner Peter McCall to highlight the rise of criminal gangs moving into Cumbria who exploit vulnerable people and children to extend the reach of their activities.
Launched yesterday, the campaign aims to highlight the dangers of county lines. Criminals from major cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, London and Birmingham are expanding their drug networks to rural areas bringing serious criminal behaviour such as violence, exploitation and abuse.
They often set up a base in a rural area for a short time, taking over the home of a vulnerable person, called cuckooing, and use adults and children to act as drug runners. Many of those targeted have been forced to carry out criminal activity by threats, grooming and extortion. For many they do not see a way out.
The campaign will include using social media to raise awareness of the issue and to increase the amount of information being given by the public in Cumbria.
Crimestoppers received 1,515 pieces of information anonymously from the public in Cumbria last year, and over half of this was on drug trafficking and supply. This has resulted in significant arrests, seizures of drugs and the disruption of criminal gangs by Cumbria police.
Gary Murray, north west regional manager for the charity Crimestoppers, said: “The exploitation of children and young people by these gangs is truly worrying. The victims are often too young and too troubled to be able to realise what is happening to them.
“Crimestoppers believes everyone has the right to feel safe from crime and we need your help to protect children and young people from exploitation. We won’t ask your name. Won’t judge. Just listen to what you know. When you hang up the phone or click `send’, you’re done.
"In over 30 years, our charity has always kept its promise that everyone who contacts us stays 100 per cent anonymous. Always.”
Vulnerable people, many of them children and young adults, are being coerced, groomed and threatened with violence to take part in illegal activity across Cumbria. Many feel they have no choice and struggle to find a way to escape from the hurt and harm they endure on a daily basis.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the issue, educate the public for the signs to look out for and to encourage the public to speak up anonymously if they have any suspicions or information about county lines.
Mr McCall said: “I am pleased to support this important new campaign to highlight the menace of criminal gangs seeking to exploit vulnerable adults and children as they seek new territories for their drug dealing networks.
“They exploit children and young people by coercing them into running class A drugs, cash or weapons, not just here in Cumbria but across the UK.
"I am delighted to see the considerable number of operations and arrests that have been made recently by Cumbria police and the significant amount of community intelligence that is being received anonymously by Crimestoppers.”