County Lines report

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Jeff Cuthbert, has welcomed a new national report looking how police forces deal with County Lines.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has today released a report on its inspection into how County Lines drug trafficking in UK is dealt with at local, regional and national levels.

It says police forces and the National Crime Agency have successfully improved their understanding of ‘county lines’ drug offending; however, current policing models are too disjointed to allow for the most effective response.

Jeff Cuthbert said: “Serious and organised crime affects all communities across Wales. We know that County Lines drug networks, driven by organised crime gangs, result in complex crimes, often hidden from public view. The perpetrators targets some of the most vulnerable people in society and no single agency can resolve this problem on its own.

“The issues arising from County Lines networks are much wider than just policing. To tackle them we need police, businesses, local authorities, the NHS, the third sector, schools and residents to work together.

“Fortunately, here in Gwent, we are at the forefront of some trailblazing work that is already making a significant difference in our communities. A series of interventions identified in the Home Office’s Serious Violence Strategy are being tested to identify what works in tackling the drivers of serious violence. They include one-to-one direct intervention and holistic support, delivering positive activities through sporting intervention and, of course, education and awareness.

“This programme aims to address the lack of early intervention and preventative activity when risk factors associated with serious violence are evident. This includes the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences where young people and families are at risk, and the associated impact this has on policing and other services. We are working with partners like Barnardo’s and the St Giles Trust address these issues in our schools.

“Delivery partners are working with neighbourhood police as well as major crime and intelligence teams to identify groups at risk of exploitation. They are also working closely with education and youth services, housing providers and third sector partners.

“Fearless, the youth service of the Crimestoppers, is a key delivery partner. Using a youth work approach, Fearless is talking to young people in our communities about serious violence in a non-judgemental way and help empower them to make positive, informed decisions about crime and criminality.”

HMICFRS inspected how county lines drug trafficking is dealt with at local, regional and national levels. Although it identified many instances of good practice, the Inspectorate concluded there needs to be a more coherent and integrated system of national tasking, intelligence sharing and response.

The subsequent report, ‘Both sides of the coin: The police and National Crime Agency's response to vulnerable people in 'county lines' drug offending’, highlighted the following achievements:

• The establishment, in 2018, of the national county lines co-ordination centre (NCLCC);

• Effective use of modern slavery legislation by police forces;

• The good use of ‘intensification weeks’, where the NCLCC co-ordinates law enforcement activity during dedicated weeks of action against county lines networks; and

• Good practice in relation to police bail.

HMICFRS warned, however, that the lack of a fully integrated, national response meant that investigations are often less effective than they should be.

The report also noted concerns regarding organised crime mapping, competing priorities and the limited use of telecommunication restriction orders.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Phil Gormley said: “County lines offending is a pressing issue for law enforcement in the UK. It is a cross-border phenomenon involving criminals working across regions, to deal drugs and exploit vulnerable people.

“To tackle cross-border crime, there needs to be a cross-border response. Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending. Although we did see many excellent examples of collaboration, we concluded that the current approach does not allow for the level of coherence needed. Our report therefore contains a list of recommendations designed to facilitate the creation of a national, co-ordinated response to county lines offences.”