More than 1,600 arrests since the start of BTP’s County Lines Taskforce
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This month marks two years on from the beginning of the British Transport Police (BTP) County Lines Taskforce, having been setup with Home Office funding in December 2019.
In that time the team have made more than 1,600 arrests and seized 1,021 lots of drugs, £610k in cash and removed 345 dangerous weapons from the rail network.
It was created to disrupt and apprehend criminals using the railway to move drugs across England, Scotland and Wales and safeguard the vulnerable children and adults exploited in this activity.
Individuals encountered by BTP officers caught up in this crime type when the Taskforce was first formed were, on average, 18-years-old – significantly lower than the national average of 26-years-old.
Detectives have used the Modern Slavery Act, introduced in 2015, to ensure those exploiting individuals in their drugs supply business received suitably severe punishment for their crimes.
As recently as October three people appeared at court charged in connection to offences under the Modern Slavery Act after a 16-year-old boy was caught in possession of Class A drugs on the railway.
This is not a unique example – the team has secured 18 charges under the Modern Slavery Act over the two-year period.
Additionally, 82 vulnerable children and adults identified by officers have been referred into the National Referral Mechanism for safeguarding.
The Taskforce now totals 68 police officers and staff with expertise added from social and charity sectors in the form of two full-time social workers and two staff members seconded from The Children’s Society.
These additions have further enhanced the team’s focus on safeguarding, ensuring the victims exploited by County Lines gangs get the support required to get them out of harm’s way.
Detective Superintendent Gareth Williams, BTP’s County Lines Taskforce lead, said: “From the outset we knew we had to approach our work with safeguarding as a top priority given the young ages of nominals encountered moving drugs on the railway.
“Around 40 per cent of those we’ve arrested over the two years have been under 18-years-old, however we’ve only criminalised one in five of them.
“We’re not looking to criminalise young people, we see them first as victims and are devoted to getting them out of the clutches of toxic gangs exploiting them for their own financial gain.
“Our intelligence-led operations and investigations have resulted in countless drug suppliers behind bars, county lines dismantled and cut off the supply of harmful drugs into our communities.
“The work doesn’t stop here – we’re dedicated to continuing to work closely with our police colleagues and the rail industry to pursue offenders, bring their criminal enterprises to the ground and incarcerate them.”
Crime & Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “The BTP taskforce has done fantastic work combatting County Lines over the past two years.
“Together with our policing partners we have made huge strides dismantling the vile gangs peddling drugs into our communities, closing down over 1,500 county lines, making over 7,400 arrests and safeguarding more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children.
“These criminals need to know that we're not stopping here. Gripping the transport network is a key part of our ambitious 10-year Drugs Strategy, so we’ll be extending the dedicated BTP County Lines Taskforce and making the rail network a high-risk place for these organised crime gangs to conduct their business.”
BTP assisted the Metropolitan Police Service with a missing person inquiry involving a child, who was thought to have left London and forced to work for a county lines gang to clear their debt. The young person was already the subject of a modern slavery investigation in ‘County A’ having previously been located at a ‘cuckooed address’.
As the young person was believed to be travelling by train, BTP’s County Lines Taskforce conducted enquiries and identified that the young person had travelled to ‘County B’ and was being held at a local Class A drug user’s address. A search of the address by BTP found not only the child, but also a significant quantity of Class A drugs and a mobile phone deemed to be operating a county line.
BTP’s investigation resulted in three people being arrested for human trafficking and drug supply, supported by a statement from the young person about their experience and exploitation. The child has since been actively engaged with social services and is no longer involved in county lines. The registered occupier of the ‘cuckooed’ address in ‘County B’ was also safeguarded as a vulnerable adult.