Warning for courts as 99 Wiltshire children revealed to be at risk from drugs gangs

ALMOST 100 Wiltshire children are at risk of being exploited by ruthless County Lines gangs, detectives estimate in an explosive report for the courts.

In a statement detailing the impact of the County Lines phenomenon on the county, Det Supt Jeremy Carter said 99 children were at risk.

Around £50,000 was spent on heroin and crack cocaine in Wiltshire every day – split roughly 50:50 between Swindon and the rest of Wiltshire. There are an estimated 2,500 heroin addicts in Wiltshire – with just a fifth known to police.

And each user not in treatment was said to commit on average £26,000-worth of crime a year, predominantly acquisitive crimes like burglary and shop thefts.

Mr Carter, who retired from the force at the end of this year, said Wiltshire Police had been at the forefront of tackling County Lines, the name given to the trend for gangs from London, Birmingham and other cities to sell class A drugs to addicts in smaller cities and towns. They typically employ children and addicts as runners.

In a statement presented in evidence this month at one County Lines drugs case, Mr Carter said: “It is noted locally, regionally and nationally as a problem and because of the threat of harm that is posed to children it is one of the current threat priorities within the force.”

The gangs were constantly changing their operating model in response to police tactics. That ranged from employing under-16s as runners to courier heroin and crack cocaine from the capital via the M4 or Great Western mainline to grooming local children into the trade.

The senior detective said officers had “become aware of a certain number of London based gang members who have domiciled themselves in Wiltshire with partners and children while certain other gangs with an affinity to Wiltshire are sending people to deal drugs”.

This year has seen a number of high-profile convictions at Swindon Crown Court of higher-ups involved in running their own County Lines networks in the town.

They include Andre Hewitt, a former member of notorious Hackney gang the London Fields Boys and one of six people sentenced this month for their part in the ‘Alex’ drugs line. Hewitt, described as the main franchisee, was jailed for seven years and nine months.

It can take years to bring the drugs networks to court. But a new tactic that sees undercover police officers pose as addicts to order drugs from County Lines gangs has resulted in dozens of small-time runners charged. What is startling is the number of drugs lines those arrested have worked for. They include ‘Lucky’ line runner Lee Mapstone, youngster Connor Cahill, who was working for the ‘Jimmy’ line, and a 17-year-old boy peddling class As for the ‘Sanchez’ gang.

In October, more than 60 people were arrested as Swindon police swooped on suspected crack dens and dealers across the town.

Det Insp Paul Franklin of Wiltshire Police’s drugs squad said: “The number arrested not only shows the amount of drug gang activity going on in the county but also the concerted effort being made by Wiltshire Police to close these lines down.”

He added of lengthy jail sentences: “It a strong message to the organised gangs who control County Lines that you are not welcome in Swindon or Wiltshire; we will find you and you will be prosecuted.”

This is Wiltshire

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