‘We are com­ing for you’

SPE­CIAL RE­PORT Po­lice vow to break county lines drug net­works

Gloucestershire Echo - - FRONT PAGE - By CONOR GOG­A­RTY

PC Omar Pa­tel has seen some shock­ing things in the bat­tle against the drugs prob­lem known as county lines.

He tells of a boy aged around 16 who was taken to the den­tist for gold teeth so he could have a gang­ster im­age.

The phe­nom­e­non in­volves drug gangs from big cities send­ing peo­ple as young as 13 to run crack co­caine and heroin net­works in coun­ties.

The Glouces­ter­shire po­lice re­sponse – Op­er­a­tion Tarak – was launched in Novem­ber 2016 and has seen more than 70 peo­ple jailed.

Lead­ing the po­lice crack­down are De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor Neil Smith and PC Pa­tel, who have given an ex­tra­or­di­nary in­sight into lo­cal drug op­er­a­tions.

They re­vealed deal­ers have op­er­ated out­side Mcdon­ald’s in Chel­tenham High Street and re­searched po­lice tac­tics by read­ing our web­site .

They say Chel­tenham has been hit worse than Glouces­ter. PC Pa­tel said: “Glouces­ter has its es­tab­lished net­work of drug deal­ers. There would be more prob­lems for them there. Chel­tenham is easy.”

Mr Smith noted an in­creased ef­fort from deal­ers to avoid trou­ble. “We used to have peo­ple com­ing down with knives, ma­chetes and base­ball bats,” he said. “That has dropped off. They want an easy life.

“You get some who have seen one too many gang­ster movies, but gen­er­ally they have evolved.

“Bruises and marks on drug users have pre­vi­ously led to po­lice at­ten­tion be­ing drawn and they know this so it’s hap­pen­ing less.”

That means episodes like the child get­ting gold teeth are be­com­ing rarer.

Lon­don drug lord Marvin To­hou buy­ing one of his young Chel­tenham run­ners a school blazer is one ex­am­ple of gangs try­ing to be less con­spic­u­ous.

To­hou was jailed for four years af­ter ad­mit­ting a con­spir­acy to sup­ply Class A drugs.

Although Chel­tenham is the worst af­fected, the of­fi­cers said ev­ery part of the county has been tar­geted to an ex­tent ex­cept the Cotswolds.

PC Pa­tel said: “Gangs from Birm­ing­ham use the M5 cor­ri­dor to trans­port the deal­ers into the county. Lon­don lines use the M4, the A419. Of­ten there is a cross­over of Wilt­shire lines – af­ter go­ing to Swin­don they move onto here.

“They use ev­ery­thing – Na­tional Ex­press coaches, taxis. Re­cently they have been us­ing trains less than be­fore.

“We be­lieve they may be look­ing else­where in the county more than pre­vi­ously, be­cause they know in Chel­tenham we will be all over them.”

Some of the chil­dren sucked into the lines are from a mid­dle-class back­ground, but most have a trou­bled his­tory.

The youngest county lines dealer they are aware of was just 13.

Mr Smith said: “The con­trollers will tar­get young peo­ple who should be at school but are hang­ing about in fast food res­tau­rants and shop­ping ar­cades.”

The prom­ise of riches is of­ten too tempt­ing a draw to turn down. PC Pa­tel re­vealed po­lice have been aware of some lines across the coun­try bring­ing in £20-40,000 a week.

“In Chel­tenham, I have seen one that was mak­ing £9,000 in profit a week, run by a 16-18 year old from Lon­don,” he said. “He was get­ting £600 a week.

“He had been thrown out by his par­ents and he had nowhere to go be­fore he was re­cruited.”

Mr Smith added: “For a young lad it’s an enor­mous amount of money. If I was 16 and get­ting that sort of money I would think I was the God­fa­ther.

“It is a cow­ardly way of run­ning their busi­ness. The in­di­vid­u­als at the top can re­ally abuse these teenagers.”

The of­fi­cers con­firmed po­lice will look to bring mod­ern day slav­ery and hu­man traf­fick­ing charges.

“We haven’t had any of those con­vic­tions yet in Glouces­ter­shire with re­gards to county lines, but it’s a pos­si­bil­ity with one on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Mr Smith said. He added that it is easy for the drug run­ners to iden­tify cus­tomers.

“They tar­get the same peo­ple over and over again,” he said. “We will dis­rupt a Lon­don line and a cou­ple of weeks on there will be a line from Birm­ing­ham tar­get­ing the same peo­ple.

“The deal­ers will stand out­side Mcdon­ald’s in Chel­tenham. They will start a con­ver­sa­tion in a bus shel­ter. They will of­fer a few free sam­ples. “In any ur­ban area in the coun­try, within half an hour of walk­ing around you can iden­tify some­one who is a pos­si­ble drug user.”

The lines of­ten take over vul­ner­a­ble users’ homes.

PC Pa­tel re­vealed some drug lords have read crime sto­ries on our web­site Glouces­ter­shire Live to re­search po­lice meth­ods of tack­ling county lines.

He joked: “The mes­sage is ‘feel free to keep look­ing at Glouces­ter­shire Live.’ We are com­ing for you re­gard­less.

“Some deal­ers think it is harder for us to get to them if they have more peo­ple in­volved in each line.

“Re­cently there has been one per­son tak­ing or­ders and an­other mak­ing de­liv­er­ies. But it doesn’t stop us.”

He urged peo­ple to look out for any sus­pi­cious be­hav­iour.

“A lot of im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion has come from the com­mu­nity,” he said. “You should be think­ing ‘Why are 25 peo­ple com­ing into a flat in one day?.’

“Re­ports of sus­pi­cious be­hav­iour are not a waste of time.” conor.gog­a­rty@reach­plc.com

PC Omar Pa­tel and De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor Neil Smith. In­set, drugs seized by Glouces­ter­shire po­lice

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