Joint Rail Operation To Protect Children From County Lines Exploitation
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A number of vulnerable children have been identified as being at risk of exploitation from county lines gangs, during a joint operation between British Transport Police (BTP), Merseyside Police and Cheshire Police.
The two-day operation (5-6 July) saw officers deployed at stations and on services across the rail network.
Targeting the train lines between Liverpool Lime Street, Wirral and Chester, the aim of the operation was to identify and protect those young people recruited, or most at risk, of county lines exploitation.
Social workers, local safeguarding partners and leading child exploitation charities worked shoulder to shoulder with officers to prioritise the safeguarding of individuals exploited by gangs.
With safeguarding services located on site, young people were able to receive timely interventions at the critical, reachable moment. Organisations included Catch 22, Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE) and children’s social care and youth services from local authorities in Wirral, Liverpool and Cheshire. Thanks to this approach, multiagency decisions could be made there and then, resulting in a clear strategy to both investigate and safeguard.
Officers also made 13 arrests, multiple drug seizures including heroin, cocaine and pills and removed three weapons from the railway, alongside safeguarding 4 children, further highlighting the dedication of officers and staff to make the railway a safe environment for all.
County lines is the name given to drug dealing where gangs use phone lines to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas.
Gangs use the rail network to exploit children and vulnerable people into trafficking drugs up and down the country.
More than 120 officers and staff were involved in the deployment, which was coordinated by BTP’s dedicated County Lines Taskforce, Merseyside Police’s Project Medusa team and Cheshire Police. Safeguarding leads from BTP directly supported the safeguarding of vulnerable children and young people, alongside raising awareness on how to spot the signs to local businesses.
The police forces worked together and deployed specialist resources, such as drugs dogs, metal arches and covert and overt tactics to intercept weapons, drugs and illicit cash, and identify vulnerable individuals exploited by county lines gangs.
Detective Inspector Brian Buddo from BTP’s County Lines Taskforce said:“The results from this operation are testament to the effective joint working between us, our policing colleagues and partners, having services co-located collaborating at the very point a child is being exploited and trafficked, exemplifies how working together effectively can look. The arrests and seizures made should act as a stark warning to county lines offenders – you will be caught and be put before the courts.
“A key priority of ours is to identify and safeguard children exploited in this crime type to courier drugs via the railway, alongside intercepting the harmful drugs before they reach our communities.
“We’re wholeheartedly dedicated to ensuring the rail network is a hostile environment for drug suppliers to move their commodities.”
Chief Inspector Darren Griffiths from Cheshire Police said:“This operation highlights how powerful and hard-hitting the police can be when working jointly to target those involved in county lines criminality.
“We know criminals often use the rail network to travel between Cheshire and Merseyside in order to deal drugs in our communities and make a profit. This operation was our opportunity to show we are one step ahead and ready to prevent them from doing so.
“We must not forget that these organised crime gangs can prey on vulnerable adults and exploit, coerce and manipulate children to deliver and deal drugs on their behalf. We will not allow that to happen in our communities and we will continue to work hard to protect vulnerable adults and children and ensure Cheshire is a safe place.”
Inspector Darren Wallace from Merseyside Police said:“Merseyside Police leads nationally on the response to County Lines through Project Medusa. County Lines gangs have no regard for the young, vulnerable people they coerce in to running drugs across the country, often with threats of violence and intimidation.
“The results showcase the success of working together with other forces and partners to close County Lines and safeguard vulnerable individuals from the grip of toxic gangs.”
“We will relentlessly target those crime groups who cowardly exploit vulnerable people in our communities. Those who exploit children will be caught, arrested and face justice for modern day slavery and human trafficking offences.”