Number of county lines drug-dealing suspects in Havering up by a third
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The number of Havering residents identified as potential county lines drug dealers rose by a third in the last financial year, a report has revealed.
But police have described the figures as a success story, saying they show authorities are getting better at spotting the problem.
The Met said that in the last year, specialist work had brought down 12 county lines across Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham.
County lines are organised crime gangs who traffic drugs out of London along transport routes, such as train lines. They often groom children and use them as runners.
A new report by City Hall showed that in 2019/20, agencies identified 64 people in Havering with confirmed or suspected links to drug-dealing gangs. The previous year it was 48.
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Havering also climbed six places on a league table for referrals to City Hall’s “Rescue and Response” project, which helps children and young adults who have been groomed or coerced into county lines activity.
In 2018/19, Havering had the ninth highest referral rate in London. By 2019/20, it had risen to the third highest.
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“I think this is really encouraging,” said Det Ch Insp Sebastian Adjei-Addoh, lead officer for county lines at the East Area Borough Command Unit.
He said the figures did not necessarily mean county lines activity in the borough was up, but could instead mean that “Havering are bang on the money in terms of referrals and professionals being really aware of the risk of county lines”.
Det Insp Laura Hillier, who investigates child exploitation for the Met’s specialist crime team, agreed: “It shows that there’s better education.”
Her unit previously focused on child sexual exploitation but is now expanding to tackle other forms of grooming.
“We are moving towards more child exploitation, which includes criminal exploitation and also county lines,” she said.
In Havering, police have been working with schools, charities and other agencies to help them spot signs of criminal grooming. Parents have also been given advice online and in public meetings.
In county lines cases, the line between victim and perpetrator is often blurred, according to the City Hall report.
“The whole area is incredibly complex,” said Det Ch Insp Adjei-Addoh. “In traditional forms of crime, it’s very clear who the victim is and who the perpetrator is. But with county lines, you can have children, under 18, and actually they are enablers in terms of further exploitation.”
On the other hand, the report said, some adults involved in county lines might be viewed as victims because they were groomed as children or became involved under duress.
A common tactic is to groom a child, get them to carry a package of drugs, arrange for the child to be robbed and then threaten violence against them or their loved ones if they don’t work off the supposed debt.
“So it is incredibly difficult,” Det Ch Insp Adjei-Addoh continued. “You really have to deal with it on a case by case basis and be mindful of the fact that someone you initially perceive to be a perpetrator is themselves exploited.”
For almost a year, Det Insp Hillier’s unit has been using intelligence to try to target “line holders” - the people who lead each outfit.
But now, warned the report, Covid-19 poses a risk to the future monitoring and dismantling of county lines.
Lockdown saw gangs go more “underground”, increase their use of technology to commit crime – and some even disguised themselves as key workers in public to evade detection.
Det Insp Hillier’s team has noticed some changes in the gangs’ movements, she said. “But a lot of [our success] comes down to information and the line holders – so telephones. We rely a lot on the information coming in from the public and from professionals working with young people – concerns they are picking up on.”
“It needs to be a multi-agency approach,” said Det Ch Insp Adjei-Addoh. “I don’t think it’s something that police on their own can solve. And a lot of the time [for] young people, it may not be the police they want to talk to. It may be a social worker or a teacher. It could be a community or youth worker that has that close, trusted relationship with that young person.”