Twenty arrests, £700,000-worth of drugs seized, weapons recovered and children protected.
Just some of the results from a police operation to crackdown on drugs gangs preying on vulnerable adults and children across County Durham and Darlington last week.
Officers struck with a string of County Lines operations and executed more than a dozen warrants to hit gangs selling Class A drugs on our streets and exploiting children for their own gain.
Eleven children being groomed to traffic drugs are now safe including nine in Darlington as young as 14.
Among those now safe is a 15-year-old pregnant girl whose own mother was drug dealing and controlling a line to Manchester.
Officers also acted to protect a 19-month-old baby who was present at an address where there was evidence of frequent drug use and weapons around the house.
And in another instance, a suspected drug dealer was arrested on suspicion of raping a child under 16.
A crime pattern linked to extreme violence and exploitation, these young and vulnerable children are often ‘recruited’ to deliver the drugs on behalf of gangs in inner city areas such as London and Birmingham.
A total of eight lines were identified and targeted in one of the biggest County Lines operations the force has done to date with 15 warrants executed across the force area.
County Lines refers to a form of criminal exploitation in which criminals groom and manipulate children into drug dealing.
The ‘lines’ refer to mobile phones that are used to control a young person who is delivering drugs, often to urban and rural locations.
Several weapons including a crossbow, two machetes and zombie knives, 15 burner phones and more than £50,000 in cash were also found at different addresses while crack cocaine, heroin and a pillowcase filled with drugs was recovered.
Officers also seized three vehicles including a BMW i8, four Rolex watches and designer clothing.
A 19-year-old suspected drug dealer was also arrested after officers traced him using social media to supply drugs throughout Durham City centre.
As well as safeguarding vulnerable children found at properties, officers also carried out Operation Pester which directly engaged with more than 80 vulnerable drug users connected with the identified lines, making referrals to support networks and gaining valuable intelligence which in turn helps to cut off the demand that drug dealers rely on.
Temporary Detective Superintendent, Steve Thubron, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We have been tracking a definite trend over recent months for organised crime groups who target our communities, especially Darlington.
“County Lines is particularly appalling being marked by serious violence and the repeated exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.
“This has been a long and complex series of linked operations which have seen months of intelligence gathering leading to co-ordinated strikes against those who profit from the misery of others and the exploitation of children.
“We have seized their drugs, seized their phones, seized their weapons and seized the cars, watches and designer clothes they bought with their profits. Most importantly, we have intervened to safeguard the children they were exploiting.”
Anyone who sees something that doesn’t look right or know of any vulnerable people who may be involved in County Lines is urged to report it.
Call 999 if a person is in immediate danger or if you would prefer to remain anonymous, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.