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Dawn raids in Warrington, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Birmingham led to 25 arrests in Cheshire’s largest single operation to target those suspected of county lines organised crime.
Earlier this morning (Wednesday 11 August) officers from across the force – supported by Greater Manchester Police and Merseyside Police – targeted 16 properties in Warrington, nine addresses in the Salford and Worsley areas, three in Merseyside and one in Birmingham.
14 men were arrested in Warrington, six men and one woman in Greater Manchester, two men and one woman in Merseyside and one man in Birmingham.
The 25 arrested – aged between 19 and 55 – are currently in custody being questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin.
Drugs, cash, vehicles, watches, clothing and a mountain bikes were seized during searches.
The arrests are part of an eight-month investigation by the Serious and Organised Crime Unit into multiple organised crime groups (OCG) operating from Manchester and Merseyside into Warrington. The investigation was supported by officers from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit.
People from Warrington were also alleged to have been involved in the supply of drugs as part of the OCG.
Undercover operatives were utilised to purchase controlled drugs as part of the investigation.
Around 370 officers are involved in this morning’s Cheshire Constabulary led operation which has been supported by officers from Greater Manchester Police and Merseyside Police.
County lines is the term used to describe how organised crime gangs export illegal drugs into areas across the UK and use mobile phones to facilitate the onward supply.
Criminals are likely to exploit vulnerable adults and children to move – and often store – drugs and money on their behalf.
During the operation police identified those believed to be contacted by the county lines mobile phone to purchase controlled drugs.
This morning they received a different message that instead signposted them to support services and provided them with an opportunity to report any concerns they have about being under threat or at risk of harm.
Detective Superintendent Simon Draco, Cheshire Constabulary’s lead on Serious and Organised Crime, said: “This morning’s strike action is the largest single operation focusing on individuals who are believed to be involved in organised criminal activity.
“The investigation centred on Warrington and those suspected of travelling from Greater Manchester and Merseyside to supply crack cocaine and heroin to drug users in the town.
“It’s well known that county line drug dealers will often prey on children and vulnerable adults. In this operation we believe homes were taken over by the organised crime groups to be used as drug dens and on occasions they utilised teenagers to be part of their criminality.
“This type of exploitation leaves people in fear but can ultimately destroy lives and ruin communities.
“Today shows we are relentless in our pursuit of these individuals to protect our community and drive the message that Cheshire is and always will be a hostile environment for serious and organised crime.
“Whether in or out of police uniform we will be patrolling your streets and Cheshire’s borders to prevent any organised crime groups attempting to fill the void created from today’s arrests.”
John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, said: "Knowledge and understanding of the factors which cause crime are imperative in tackling the issues which pose the greatest risk to our communities. This operation today highlights the benefits of Cheshire Constabulary collaborating with partners to tackle the issues that out communities are facing. County lines operations can impact so many and I am proud that a number of these individuals have now been removed from our streets. This day of action gives the clear message that Cheshire is not a soft touch for crime of any kind."
To learn how to spot the signs of drug activity, including county lines exploitation, taking place in your area please visit our website.
To report serious and organised crime please call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or Cheshire Constabulary on 101.