'I've been shot at, I've seen friends die': County Lines drug dealer opens up about life of crime

Exclusive video report by ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw

A former County Lines drug dealer from Kent has spoken exclusively to ITV News Meridian about the life of crime he has now left behind.

'Tony', from Kent, was just 15 when he was first recruited into a County Lines drug gang.

The dangerous criminal activity went on to dominate every aspect of his life for years.

'Tony', who is now in his 20s, was made to ferry large quantities of drugs over long distances, often in minicabs or on trains, exploited by older gang members.

'Tony' says crime became 'a way of life' Credit: ITV News Meridian

'Tony', believes young people get drawn into County Lines because of the money they can earn.

He said: "Young people like the money, they like the lifestyle. Nowadays it's the music as well, that kind of gets them all amped up and vibing for it."

'Tony' says authorities need to focus on preventing young people being led astray in the first place.

His experience is not unique, which is why for the past week (11-17 October) British Transport Police has been running an operation designed to disrupt the gangs using the rail network in this way.

Officers from British Transport Police monitor railway stations across the South East Credit: ITV News Meridian

Officers have been using metal-detector archways and sniffer dogs at stations across Kent and Sussex which has led to more than 40 arrests.

Police say they want to make the railways in the South East a "hostile environment" for County Lines drug gangs.

Senior officers say it is as much about safeguarding as enforcement. 

Chief Inspector Rachel Griffiths, British Transport Police said: "Children and adults who are vulnerable are being taken advantage of, they're trafficked from one part of the country to another.

"Their premises are taken over by people who will then live in their house or their flat.

"My taskforce are making the railway a hostile environment to operate in. We will find you, or one of the other police forces will find you, and we will deal with you."

Credit: ITV News Meridian

The highly visible activity has been replicated at dozens of stations across the South East.

Teams of plain clothes officers keep a watchful eye on those trying to avoid the metal detector.

On Saturday (16 October), at Sittingbourne station, two men were stopped and were found in possession of Class A and B drugs, £800, a lock knife and a burner style phone.

They were both arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply, and one additionally on suspicion of possession of a bladed article.

On Thursday (14 October), at London St Pancras, a man was arrested on suspicion of money laundering after being caught with approximately £20,000 in cash in a holdall.

Another man was further arrested after a Section 18 search of his home address in Kent was conducted.

The further arrests were for possession of Class A, possession of Class B, possession of an offensive weapon (17-inch Zombie Knife) and theft of a bank card.

Credit: ITV News Meridian

The founder of a local anti-violence project says policing alone will not end the allure of drug crime for some young people.

Lennox Rodgers, Co-founder, Refocus Project said: "Invest a lot more into young people and services that are going to be a real help, because so many services are using people with lived experience."

One of the project's newest recruits is 'Tony'. He has left his life of crime behind him and is giving talks in local schools about the dangers of County Lines.

He said: "I'm now trying to help out and give back and make sure the younger generation don't get caught and don't go through the same kind of mistakes that I did."