Great Britain
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Boris Johnson promises crackdown on ‘county lines’ drug operations

Boris Johnson is to promise to invest £300m in “wiping out” the county lines drug gangs responsible for distributing and selling illegal substances across England.

The crackdown forms part of the government’s new drugs strategy, which also includes an expansion of drug testing after arrest for other offences and a behaviour change campaign to be piloted in universities in the hope of turning young people away from narcotics.

The launch of the strategy on Monday comes after evidence emerged that around 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England are responsible between them for nearly half of all acquisitive crime – such as burglaries and muggings – while drugs are linked to almost half of homicides.

The total cost to society of illegal drug use is estimated by the government to be nearly £20bn a year in England alone.

Mr Johnson said that the police county lines programme had already closed down 1,500 “lines” responsible for spreading drugs from the cities to every corner of the country, making more than 7,400 arrests and safeguarding more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children.

The new campaign will aim to dismantle a further 2,000 county line operations over the next three years.

The prime minister said: “Drugs are a scourge on our society, fuelling violence on our streets, which communities across the country are forced to endure.

“That’s why, to cut crime and truly level up across the country, we must step up efforts to wipe out the vile county lines gangs who are blighting our neighbourhoods, exploiting children and ruining lives.

“Backed by record investment, the strategy we’re setting out today will attack supply and break the county lines model, which sees criminals profit from people’s misery. Those who break the law will have nowhere to hide.”

Home secretary Priti Patel added: “It is clear that the drugs trade is still driving so much crime – we must do more to prevent these ruthless gangs ruining lives, tearing apart communities and exploiting young people.

“This strategy will help to relentlessly pursue the kingpins behind these supply lines, making our streets safer.”

Other elements of the strategy include:

• Carrying out 6,400 disruptions against the activities of organised criminals

• Strengthening organised crime partnerships preventing the wholesale supply of drugs to neighbourhood dealers

• Out-of-court interventions including mandatory attendance of drug awareness courses for those who continue to use substances

• Powers for judges to order drug testing of anyone serving a community sentence whose offending is related to drug use

• Contacting phone numbers found on drug dealers’ seized mobiles with a range of messages to discourage drug use and direct users to support

Chris Farrimond, director of threat leadership at the National Crime Agency, said: “So far this year, over 120 tonnes of cocaine have been seized as a result of NCA activity. We have more than 300 ongoing investigations, both at home and abroad, specifically focusing on class A drugs.

“We have worked with government partners on the 10-year drugs strategy and will continue to suppress the dynamic drugs market, taking out of circulation those exploitative, violent and connected individuals and crime groups intent on causing harm to our communities.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines, deputy assistant commissioner Graham McNulty, said: “County lines drug dealing is linked to the most serious violence and abuse of vulnerable young people, and we are committed to doing everything we can to bring these criminals to justice.

“Additional funding will support police in stopping these abhorrent criminals, protect young people, and protect our communities from the misery caused by county lines.”