In ‘County Lines’ Jason Hamilton is a fearless, intimidating, ruthless and violent gangster, who respects no boundaries. Amongst other criminal enterprises he exploits vulnerable youngsters in a county lines drug dealing operation. He has no concern for their wellbeing, just the success of his criminal empire and avoiding the attention of the police.
Organised crime gangs groom, threaten or force children and other vulnerable people to conceal, transport and deal illicit drugs to street users and dealers, in towns and cities across the country. It is the usual practice to target places other than their usual habitat, where they may be known to the police and other agencies. The county line is the mobile phone network used by the dealers and suppliers, and often used as a reference to travelling across geographical boundaries.
It is common practice for the drug runners to commandeer the residence of a drug user or other vulnerable person. The building is then used as a base to run the drug dealing operations from, whilst dealing in that town or city. Sometimes drug users will be paid a paltry rent by way of their heroin fix.
Another benefit for the gangs is that it distances themselves from any hands on activity. Thereby evading capture by the police and remaining under the radar. The drug dealing isn’t the only presenting danger to those exploited. They find themselves frequenting a chaotic world of intimidation, violence and other general criminality often involving knives and firearms.
The Home Office now recognise the scale of the problem, it is a priority for UK law enforcement agencies. A multi agency response to tackle the crime as now been coordinated across the UK. The police and National Crime Agency are working together along with the health, education and welfare agencies.
The successful results by the law enforcement agencies can be seen often in the press. Headlines such as “More than 1,000 people have been arrested and an estimated £1.2m worth of drugs seized in a police crackdown on so-called “county lines” gangs.” are not uncommon.
Click here to view the news item on the BBC News website from September 2020. The article reports on the operation which involved raids carried out over a week, involving all 43 police forces in England and Wales. £1.2million worth of drugs, 200 weapons and £526,000 in cash were seized by the police. 10% of the phone lines (102) being used for drug dealing were taken out of action.
Out of the 1,000 suspects arrested in this case, it is not clear what status they held within the organised crime group hierarchy. There is also a recognised fear that no sooner are mobile phone lines closed down, than another criminal enterprise moves in to fill the void. The battle may be won in this news report but the war isn’t over. UK law enforcement have to constantly develop their approach to effectively tackle this problem.