Thames Valley Police carried out a week of action last week (May 13 to May 19) to continue an ongoing commitment to tackle “county lines” drug dealing
This part of the force’s Stronghold campaign which works in partnership to tackle serious and organised crime and exploitation.
County lines drug dealing is the name given to drug dealing where organised criminal groups (OCGs) use phone lines to move organised and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas.
In Banbury an address in Jubilee Court was raided on Tuesday, May 14, resulting in the safeguarding of one man and the gathering of intelligence. They also found mobile phones and drug paraphernalia.
County wide, Stronghold has resulted in the safeguarding of 77 vulnerable people including 15 children; 144 visits to previous victims of cuckooing, the act of taking over a persons home for the dealing of drugs; 40 educational visits to schools; the execution of 18 warrants, arresting 72 people and seizing drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis, £85,652 in cash and 113 mobile phones.
County lines are also adding work to children’s social workers who attempt to prevent young people from being exploited by drugs gangs.
Gangs and organised crime networks increasingly recruit children to sell and move drugs.
Oxfordshire County Council children’s social care worker Karen Hulston is keen to highlight the warning signs of youngsters at risk of being sucked into the drugs trade so that family, friends and professionals can raise the alarm.
Ms Hulston, who works in the north Oxfordshire area, said: “Parents often feel desperate and at a loss because they are unable to control what their child is doing and who they are associating with.
“We know signs include a child becoming violent and uncharacteristically rude or obnoxious with their parents, teachers and others, returning home late, staying out all night or going missing – being found in areas away from home.
“Other signs include increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them, being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going, unexplained absences from school, unexplained money, phones clothes or jewellery, using violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know, coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled and having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.”
Oxfordshire public organisations plan to use a ‘screening tool’, designed to spot children at risk of sexual exploitation, to cover all forms of abuse.
Anyone with concerns about someone who could be being exploited by a gang should call the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub on 0345 050 7666, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.