County Lines: Drugs worth £160,000 seized and 24 arrested during Cleveland Police raids
Video report by Kris Jepson
Children as young as 13 are involved in supplying drugs on Teesside say police following raids which have been 24 people arrested and more than £160,000 worth of drugs seized.
As part of a national intensification week, between Monday, 27 February and Sunday, 4 March, Cleveland Police joined officers from forces across the country targeting organised crime groups.
County lines drugs dealing involves using a phone line to arrange drug deals and organised crime groups exploiting and coercing children or vulnerable people into transporting and selling illegal drugs and money.
Cleveland Police says it understands there are around 20 active county lines gangs in the area.
Chief Inspector John Tapper told ITV Tyne Tees: "We see vulnerable people’s houses being cuckooed, their houses are taken over and used by drugs dealers and we see young people, sometimes teenagers as young as 13, 14, 15 years of age involved in the supply of drugs. With that comes exploitation and violence quite often, so it’s a significant problem causing harm to communities."
Hartlepool Neighbourhood Inspector, Zoe Kelsey, said: "We're seeing an increase in referrals from other agencies and intelligence put to the police service that these young people, often teenagers, are being used to deal drugs, because they don't think they'll be stopped by the police.
"They've been given mopeds to deliver these drugs on and sometimes gifts, as well as money."
She said the force understands there are around 20 active county line gangs in the area and, during operations in the last six months, officers have seized £6 million worth of drugs and safeguarded five vulnerable people from modern slavery.
Inspector Kelsey added that there is a high level of violence connected to county lines gangs.
She said: "It's very typical that we do go into houses and find numerous machetes and claw hammers and crowbars, which are used for defence for when people are dealing drugs and to threaten people."
Where were arrests made in Teesside?
As part of the intensification week, several warrants were executed in Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland.
Eighteen men, five women and one male youth were arrested for a variety of drugs offences, including possession of Class A, B and C drugs and possession with intent to supply.
Six other people were arrested and charged with a variety of other offences.
In Middlesbrough, two men, aged 29 and 36, were arrested and charged with possession with intent to supply Class A drugs. All three men appeared at court on 1 March.
In Hartlepool, officers seized a large quantity of heroin and cocaine and two machetes.
A 41-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs, and an 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs.
Both have been bailed pending further enquiries.
A total of five adults and five young people were safeguarded during the intensification week. Referrals were made in relation to vulnerable youths and adults involved in the county lines activity.
Officers also carried out engagement and awareness events with schools and hotels and stickers were placed in taxis across Cleveland raising awareness of county lines.
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