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County lines - tackling drugs and cuckooing

Awareness is starting to grow about county lines drug dealing and cuckooing, which is having an impact in Bedfordshire and other areas across the country.

The behaviour is simple. Drug dealers, often from major cities such as London, will move into new areas like Bedfordshire to sell their products. The link from London to their new base in Bedfordshire is known as the ‘county drug line’.

Often, these dealers will take advantage of and exploit vulnerable housing tenants, taking over their home and using it as a base for their criminal operation. This is known as ‘cuckooing’.

These gangs are often violent and extremely intimidating. Not only do they exploit vulnerable people for their base, but they also target children and recruit them into their criminal network. We know of children not even in their teens yet who have been targeted by older dealers to start dealing drugs.

These organised crime groups can often have links to other forms of exploitation such as human trafficking, modern slavery and child sexual exploitation.

While the county lines model is associated with major cities, we now know of gangs in Bedfordshire that have adopted this tactic, going to areas such as Berkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk and establishing their own supply lines.

This mixture of exploitation and vulnerability is a key reason ourselves and our partners are working to get a grip on county lines, and organised crime groups more generally.

More than 20 people have been arrested as part of Operation Nola, our new crackdown on county lines, since it was launched in June. A number of vulnerable people at risk of cuckooing have also been safeguarded as part of this operation.

Every month senior officers meet with agencies such as social services, housing teams and charities such as Unseen to coordinate our work in tackling things like county lines and modern slavery. It is crucial that professionals across Bedfordshire are working together to address this threat.

We also need buy-in from our communities to tackle this exploitation. The public can be our eyes and ears across the county, help us respond to the threats faced by children and vulnerable people and protect them from exploitation.

The signs of someone being cuckooed may not be obvious. It could be that you have not seen your neighbour for a long time, or perhaps there are more and more people coming and going than before.

Their home could have become very messy, or it may even be that there are loads more takeaway boxes around than you would expect.

Likewise, there are signs to spot children and young people involved in county lines. They might have more than one phone, particularly older and cheaper handsets.

They might have large amounts of cash or luxury items like expensive clothes, trainers and jewellery. It is also worth keeping an eye out for items associated with drug dealing, such as bags, cling film, rubber bands, digital scales, Vaseline and baby wipes.

Language is also important. Slang words such as G-pack, traphouse, bando, nittys and boodge are all part of a county lines dealer’s vocabulary.

I would urge anyone to report their suspicions that someone is being exploited to police. You can visit our online reporting centre or call us on 101, quoting Operation Nola. Always call 999 in an emergency.

However, if you would rather not report this information to police, then Crimestoppers can accept information anonymously. You can call them on 0800 555 111 or visit their website.

Detective Inspector Katie Dounias

Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking, County Lines and Serious and Organised Crime

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