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Officers from Southampton West’s Neighbourhood Policing Team joined forces with British Transport Police (BTP) on Friday, 26 March to tackle county lines networks using the city’s rail links and exploiting local children.
Plain clothed and uniformed officers from Southampton West’s Neighbourhoods Teams and BTP county lines taskforce were supported by Police Dog Ted and his handler from the Ministry of Defence Police, as they undertook a proactive county lines operation to stop and disrupt organised crime using public transport as a means to distribute drugs around, and safeguard exploited children.
A total of 35 stop and searches were completed resulting in 11 positive searches in which class A and B drugs were seized. Eight people were found to be carrying cannabis and were issued with community resolution orders.
A 17-year-old boy from Bournemouth was arrested on suspicion of possession of Class B drugs. He was released from custody but remains under investigation.
A 23-year-old man from Basingstoke was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs. A 28-year-old man from Southampton was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class B drugs. Both have been released under investigation.
Inspector Sarah Nicholson from Southampton West’s Neighbourhood Policing Team said: “Tackling drugs and the associated crime that comes with them remains a priority in Southampton.
“County lines and local drugs networks cause misery for our communities. This joint operation carried out with our colleagues from BTP demonstrates our commitment to tackling drug related harm to help keep our communities safe.
“Southampton is a busy, thriving city, and is a safe place in which to live, work and visit - but like most towns and cities up and down the country, we have experienced issues with county lines drugs networks and associated activity such as knife crime and violent assaults.
“Southampton has good transport links with the M3/M27 motorways and a train line into London and the Midlands so it is an attractive place for criminals who are trying to move drugs around. We work alongside our partners like British Transport Police in regular operations such as this – to target criminals and prevent them from using our excellent network.
“Supply gangs are responsible for high levels of violence in addition to the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable adults and children.
“Often, drug dealers will take advantage of and exploit vulnerable housing tenants, taking over their home and using it as a base for their criminal operation, known as ‘cuckooing’. Not only do these gangs exploit vulnerable people, but they also target children and recruit them into their criminal network.
“We work alongside our partners to issue closure orders on properties that are causing issues of criminality and anti-social behaviour in the community – and to safeguard those vulnerable people.”
“It’s not only the obviously vulnerable who are groomed for county lines activity. Young people from more stable / affluent backgrounds have been groomed for county lines dealing and to conceal the illicit finance it generates.
“We will continue to work hard, alongside our partners, to bring criminals to justice and support people who are exploited by criminals.”
British Transport Police County Lines Taskforce lead, Detective Superintendent Gareth Williams, said: “It’s vital we partner with our police colleagues on targeted operations to share information to disrupt the County Lines drug supply business model.
“We proactively deploy on these operations across the UK on a daily basis to make the rail network a hostile environment for organised criminals to operate.
“A key aim of our dedicated team is to identify and safeguard vulnerable children and adults often exploited by these organised criminals to transport drugs and illicit cash between import and export locations.
“Alongside The Children’s Society, we’re urging everyone on the rail network to look closer for the signs of child exploitation, and report any concerns to us. This can be done by texting us on 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40.”
When it comes to exploitation, there is no 'perfect victim', any young person can be exploited. To learn how to spot the signs of child exploitation and abuse and how to report concerns, go to The Children’s Society website https://bit.ly/31Vd3Kv .
Exploitation can happen anywhere, to any child. Know what signs to look for. You can report concerns by speaking to local police on 101 or call 999 in an emergency.
If you are a young person who is worried about being involved in County Lines, or know someone who is, you can speak to an adult and let them know how you feel. You can also contact https://www.fearless.org/ to pass on information anonymously.