County lines drugs trade continues in the West Country despite lockdown

The county lines drugs trade has continued to blight West Country communities this year - despite the coronavirus lockdown.

That’s according to British Transport Police, who say arrests have continued at the same rate before lockdown was introduced.

Gangs in London and Birmingham are still managing to send drugs to the South West’s towns and villages - often by train - and often using young teenagers as runners. 

A train arriving into Swindon station.

Nationally, since December, the force has arrested nearly 600 people suspected of being involved in county lines - a business model in which local dealers use dedicated mobile phone lines to place drug orders in big cities, with young runners sent out to deliver the goods. 

In an effort to intercept them, police sniffer dog units have staged operations at major train stations such as Swindon - a regional gateway for much of the South West's county lines activity. 

“But of course the links to Devon and Cornwall, through Wiltshire, and then back into London with a very quick rail line, make it quite an interesting prospect for those criminal gangs that do traffic drugs," Det Supt Williams explained.

In many instances, the teenagers arrested are treated as victims rather than criminals. 

Many have been groomed by gangs to undertake drug running, with the promise of financial rewards. 

According to British Transport Police, often the teenagers' parents have no idea what their children are involved in. 

But according to the NSPCC, there are some telltale signs that might indicate a child is being exploited by gangs.

These include:

  • Skipping school

  • Staying out late or travelling for unexplained reasons

  • Becoming angry or aggressive

  • Having unexplained money or expensive items

  • Making more calls or sending more messages, often on a new phone

  • Spending more time on social media and being secretive about time online

  • Unexplained injuries and refusing to seek medical help

ITV News West Country joined the British Transport Police on an operation at Swindon Station, to see their tactics firsthand. 

You can watch our report in full at the top of this article.

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