Criminal gangs dressed young drug mules as Deliveroo nurses and workers to deliver illegally acquired cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs during the blockade, according to a senior officer in charge of tackling the county lines that deal with one of the largest forces of UK police.
Merseyside police supt Andy O’Connor said Liverpool drug lords forced to return home during the blockade were running a “click and collect” service for couriers disguised as key workers to travel in and out of the region. with drugs.
He said that the looming recession coupled with high unemployment could make it easier for criminal groups to recruit vulnerable people and their families as the blockade is facilitated.
In an interview with the Guardian to publicize the Merseyside police Eyes Open educational campaign about the telltale signs of criminal exploitation, O’Connor said the blockade made it much more difficult to move drugs and money across the country.
He said: “Most of our criminal groups have had to come back into force, to return to the Liverpool and Merseyside area. What you still had in the importing forces was the demand for class A drugs. In a sense, what we saw was a “click and collect” service for drugs.
“What we had, anecdotally, were the people who left the area to deliver drugs. People were dressed like key workers, we have evidence to show that there were people who were checked to assume they were Deliveroo nurses or drivers. Criminal groups are intelligent and ingenious. They still want to deliver their products, there is still a significant amount of money to be made.
County line merchants traditionally put couriers on buses and trains to deliver drugs and money to smaller cities, but with the use of reduced public transportation during the blockade, the gangs had to change course, O’Connor said . Some young people were caught by the British transport police on trains, but others were transported by car, sometimes driven by their relatives.
O’Connor said: “If you are an intelligent criminal group, force a woman to drive a car. Put yourself in the shoes of a criminal gang leader of a drug gang, use vulnerable women to move drugs and money. They don’t look like your stereotypical drug dealer wearing dark clothes, North Face coats, caps up, baseball caps. It protrudes like a sore thumb. If you force mothers, sisters, grandmothers to make drugs on their behalf, where there are debts to pay, it’s an easy way to move drugs across the country. “
Merseyside youth and vulnerable people were captured during the blockade as far as Aberdeen in Scotland and on the south coast of England, he said. Activity increased with block progress. O’Connor’s force safeguarded two young men in relation to the county lines in April, 27 in May and 38 in June. Seventy-four people were arrested during operations over the three months.
Reduced imports pushed the price of cocaine from £ 30,000- £ 35,000 to £ 45,000- £ 50,000 per kilo, he said. Instead of increasing the street-level price, retailers cut drugs or switch to selling illegally purchased prescription drugs.
“We have seen a significant reduction in quality and purity,” said O’Connor. “In some locations outside of Merseyside, we know that because of the blockade, they have been unable to obtain class A and class B drugs, so some users have used prescription drugs.”
There are 97 active county lines operating from Merseyside, police data show. After London, Merseyside drug gangs are the second largest exploiter of young people, who rule children as young as 10 years old, according to the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership.
He launched a public information campaign that warns people of signs of criminal exploitation, of how children are treated by older retailers who buy them targeted gifts of clothes, food and bicycles, making them feel in debt and part of the gang or the ” family”.
O’Connor said: “People must realize that these people rule people in the same way as sexual criminals. They open the way in people’s lives. “I’ll do you a favor,” that kind of thing. Vulnerable people are threatened with significant harm to themselves or their family members. They will threaten to sexually assault family members. “
Once ruled, children are sent to other parts of the UK to sell their drugs, often hundreds of miles from home.
The likely recession could put more people at risk of gangs than county lines, O’Connor said. “That’s why what we are doing with Eyes Open is not only trying to arrest the drug dealers, but it helps people who are threatened, who are forced to do it, to implement these preventive measures.
“We want to offer people different paths and opportunities to help themselves.”