Crimestoppers and the police and crime commissioner for Cheshire, David Keane, have launched a campaign to highlight the dangers of County Lines drug operations in Cheshire.
The month-long campaign will educate the public on the signs to look out for, which will make them aware of the pain and suffering that criminals from other areas inflict on Cheshire communities and the damage that they cause.
County Lines is where criminals from major cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and London expand their drug networks to other areas, bringing with it serious criminal behaviour such as violence, abuse and exploitation.
This is having an impact on urban and rural communities across Cheshire and also on vulnerable children and adults who are recruited from large cities elsewhere to work locally. They transport cash and drugs to Cheshire whilst the criminals hide behind them, becoming more difficult to find.
They often set up a base for a short period of time and take over the home of someone vulnerable (known as ‘cuckooing’) and use adults and children to act as drug runners.
The social media campaign will run throughout Cheshire targeting 13 areas where County Lines is considered an issue, including Runcorn, Winsford, Chester, Ellesmere Port, Alsager, Crewe, Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich, Knutsford, Sandbach, Warrington and Congleton.
The campaign will use social media posts to help raise awareness of County Lines, directing people to the Crimestoppers website to report any suspicious activity.
Last year, Crimestoppers received 2,956 pieces of information from the public in Cheshire, up from 2,672 the previous year. Much of this was regarding drug dealing and supply.
Law enforcement in Cheshire has made significant arrests of people involved in this type of activity and whilst many vulnerable adults and children continue to be coerced into these activities, many have been safeguarded.
David Keane, police and crime commissioner for Cheshire, said: “County Lines gang activity can have a devastating impact on young people and those who are most vulnerable in our society.
“It is vitally important that residents in our communities are aware of the dangers of how these drug gangs operate to recruit vulnerable people and the serious implications of becoming involved with these criminals.
“I am pleased to be working with Crimestoppers on this campaign and I hope that it raises awareness amongst our communities about what to do if you or someone you know feels like they are being exploited by these gangs, and more importantly, how to stop getting involved with them in the first place.”
Gary Murray, North West regional manager for the charity Crimestoppers, added: “To protect our communities and the most vulnerable in our society, I’m urging anyone with information about County Lines or drug dealers exploiting others to contact our charity. We understand that for some people, speaking directly to the police is a step too far due to fear or reprisals. That’s why Crimestoppers, as an independent charity, is here to help.
“We need to ensure that when gangs set up their drug operation here, that your information helps to get them removed. At Crimestoppers we guarantee you stay 100% anonymously. Always.
“Our UK Contact Centre is open 24/7 and available on 0800 555 111, or you can use our anonymous online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No one will ever know you contacted us. Together we can help keep our communities safe.”
Peter Crowcroft, superintendent for local policing at Cheshire police, added: “Campaigns like this are at the heart of what Cheshire police is about – protecting the vulnerable and those who are being exploited, and stopping the predators.
“Breaking the cycle of those who are coerced into this crime is very difficult and while working with partners is key, we also need support from the public to help tackle the vulnerability and criminality.
“I would encourage our communities to look out for the signs of County Lines activity and report anything suspicious to Cheshire police or anonymously via Crimestoppers.”
Signs to look out for – County Lines activity:
There are certain signs which people can look out for to identify if a family member, a friend or someone in their community is being exploited by a County Lines gang. They include:
• Unusual activity in your neighbourhood – repeat visits to the house of a neighbour or visitors leaving quickly.
• Unexplained wealth – gifts in the form of technology or designer labels.
• Emotional or psychological trauma - someone you know suddenly becoming anxious or stressed.
• Physical injuries: risk of serious violence or death.
• Neglect and basic needs not being met - living in unclean, dangerous and/or unhygienic environments.
• Poor attendance and/or attainment at school/college/university