Boris Johnson pledges to wipe out 'vile' county lines gangs with ten-year drugs strategy

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ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt on Boris Johnson's war on drugs

The government has announced a record £780 million for drug treatments in England, on top of a £300 million to crack down on supply chains and drug gangs.

It comes as part of a new ten-year strategy to tackle drugs in England and Wales.

Every local authority in England will receive extra funding to improve access to treatment and increase capacity of services over the next three years, with the 50 local authorities that need it most receiving the money first.

It is hoped that by getting more people into treatment, authorities can break the cycle of crime driven by addiction and reduce drug-related violence.

The £780 million - the largest ever boost in funding - will bring the total spending on drug enforcement and treatment to more than £3 billion over the next three years.

Boris Johnson is also pledging to break up 2,000 “county lines” drugs gangs with a £300 million drive. It will involve police cracking down on the supply of class A drugs by city-based crime rings to the surrounding county areas.

The PM said the government is putting "a lot more" investment into tackling the 300,000 "problem drug users" who drive drugs crime and about half of all drugs-related murders in the country.

He said: "You’ve got to invest in rehabilitation; everyone who knows about drugs crime will tell you that (these) 300,000 people, their lives, they are chaotic. "They need to be taken off drugs, they need to be put into rehab, so you’ve got to invest in rehab."

Boris Johnson said the government needs to invest in rehabilitation and 'come down hard' on county lines drugs gangs

In a statement ahead of the strategy launch, the prime minister said: “Drugs are a scourge on our society, fuelling violence on our streets which communities across the country are forced to endure.

“That’s why, to cut crime and truly level up across the country, we must step up efforts to wipe out the vile county lines gangs who are blighting our neighbourhoods, exploiting children and ruining lives.

“Backed by record investment, the strategy we’re setting out today will attack supply and break the county lines model which sees criminals profit from people’s misery. Those who break the law will have nowhere to hide."

There are 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England who are responsible for nearly half of acquisitive crime, including burglary and robbery, while drugs drive nearly half of all homicides, according to the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care.

The total cost to society is put at nearly £20 billion a year.

Sajid Javid was asked if he had ever reported anyone for taking drugs at a party

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “This is a huge moment which will not only save lives but help level up the country.

“We’re investing a record amount into treatment services with money to break the cycle of drug use and to support communities by cutting the drug use which drives crime.

“Treatment services are just one part of the comprehensive strategy which includes helping people back to work, into permanent housing, and cracking down on supply.”

Asked if he had ever reported anyone for taking drugs at a party, Mr Javid said: "I personally haven't reported anyone, because if I had to I guess I would've but I haven't come across that myself.

"It's important that everyone sees that they've got a role to play to help the battle against the trade in illegal drugs, but also to help those that might be addicted."

Asked if he had ever taken illegal drugs, he said: "No."

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer says the government must 'take responsibility' for funding cuts which he says have led to an increase in drug-related crime.

Responding to the government's new strategy, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said he wants to see Boris Johnson "take responsibility" for the money that's been taken out of the criminal justice system, which he says has led to drug problems getting worse.

"The questions for the government is not just over the plans today, but the money that they've taken out of the system," Mr Starmer said.

"Millions and millions of pounds has been taken out the system over years, and that has caused a lot of the problems.

"I want to see the plans, I want to see the strategy, I want the prime minister to take responsibility for the money that has been taken out of criminal justice in the last ten years that has caused many of these problems."

Among the measures in the strategy is an expansion of drug testing on arrest, with police encouraged to direct individuals who test positive towards treatment or other relevant interventions.

This could include attendance at drug awareness courses with criminal sanctions for those who continue to use.

Judges will also be given the power to order drugs tests on offenders serving community sentences for drugs-related crimes, with the prospect of jail if they test positive.

When dealers are arrested, police will be able to seize their mobile phones and use them to send messages to their clients to discourage drug use and direct them to support.

'The exploiters wait outside schools,' a detective said as he describes how county lines gangs recruit children

The measure is designed to remove the feeling of anonymity when people purchase illegal drugs by making them aware the police know what is going on.

A behaviour change campaign will be piloted on university campuses to help understand which messages work in discouraging drug misuse at an early stage.

The deterrent and preventative measures will run alongside an aggressive campaign aimed at the drugs gangs, with a commitment to dismantle over 2,000 county lines over the next three years involving thousands more arrests.

Police will carry out 6,400 “disruptions” against the activities of organised criminals, targeting the road and rail networks they use while protecting vulnerable young people exploited by the gangs to run drugs for them.