Police today formed a “steel ring” around Merseyside as part of a serious crackdown on the drug gangs.
Railway stations, bus terminals and highways were flooded with officers chasing suspected couriers.
The operation was the third one this week to involve Merseyside police as the force battles ruthless criminal networks.
On Friday morning Priti Patel was present for a pre-operative briefing in the center of Liverpool.
Officers from the Merseyside police, North Wales police and the British transport police had an overview of the devastation caused by the County Lines drug gangs.
These networks focus on gangs from large cities that take over drug markets in other areas, often exploiting vulnerable children and adults to perform frontline tasks such as street dealing.
Controversy between rival gangs often takes place in those areas – and in the streets of Liverpool and its surroundings.
Merseyside is said to be County Lines’ second largest band exporter, with tentacles from local groups spanning Cumbria, North Wales, Cheshire, Devon and Cornwall and beyond.
Today’s crackdown, part of an operation called Project Medusa, has focused on links between the region and North Wales.
Research teams, including MATRIX’s anti-gun and gang units, traveled in convoy to Norris Green to execute one of the 12 warrants.
Police walked through the door of a house near a school before arresting a 37-year-old male on a drug offense charge.
He was one of eight men arrested while a dozen houses had been hit by Norris Green, Wallasey, Kensington, Rhyl and Abergele.
Cell phones, class A and B drugs and a stun gun were also seized.
Five other men were arrested as 48 detainees and research related to the operation was conducted.
A male stopped at Lime Street station was carrying £ 3,000.
More than 120 officers have been involved in the operation.
Chief Inspector Steve Riordan told them that they would form a “steel ring” around Merseyside.
The traffic police patrolled the M53 and M56 and the British transport police had research teams in railway stations including Lime Street, Liverpool South Parkway, Chester, Bangor, Rhyl and Colwyn Bay.
Those officers – as well as the crews stationed at Liverpool ONE bus station – were looking for potential drug couriers.
Information leaflets drawn up by the Children’s Society were given to young people who they believed were at risk of exploitation.
Today’s operation was the third of this week conducted with Merseyside police and other armed forces.
On Monday, a male was arrested and 250 g of class A drugs and a cell phone were seized in a joint operation with the Cumbria police.
Nine people were arrested on Thursday including a 29-year-old man, a 28-year-old man and a 49-year-old woman, all from Liverpool, in raids with Staffordshire police.
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Following the Liverpool operation, Merseyside police chief officer Andy Cooke said: “In November 2019, Merseyside police received £ 640,000 in government funding to deal with and close the criminal gangs organized by County Lines operating since Merseyside.
“These County Lines gangs are responsible for the widespread distribution of illegal drugs to other parts of the country, including North Wales, Staffordshire, Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Northumbria, West Midlands, Scotland, Kent, Devon, Cornwall and Wiltshire.
“Thanks to government funding, we have been able to establish the Medusa project, which consists of several types of operational activities designed to effectively stop and, in turn, bring down these gangs.
“Over the past two months, the concentrated activity of our officers, in collaboration with the British Transport Police and other forces in the United Kingdom, has led to the cutting of seven county lines run by organized criminal groups.
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“As a result, we arrested 48 people and, above all, we were able to safeguard 21 people who had been exploited by these groups.
“County Lines has escaped the shoulders of vulnerable people hit by ruthless criminals.
“They use the vulnerable to peddle their drugs while they sit and live on criminal gains from illegal drug sales, which ruin our communities.”
The Ministry of Interior has allocated £ 20 million for the fight against County Lines and has set up a national intelligence coordination center to share among the forces.
Home secretary Priti Patel said: “I will not tolerate these horrible gangs that terrorize our cities and exploit our children.
“I am delighted to see such strong results from the police: they have my full support in this crucial work.
“We will continue to support their efforts to address this threat with 20,000 new officers.”
Over 80 arrests and 35 consignments of drugs, 11 weapons, cash totaling around £ 20,000 and 78 phones have been seized by a British transport police unit since its creation last year.
Patel visited Lime Street station this morning, where he spoke to frontline agents in the operation.
Police chief Paul Crowther said today: “We have seen firsthand the devastating impact these exploitation gangs have on young people and we are determined to stop this criminal activity.
“Since the founding of the County Lines task force, we have achieved excellent results with the arrest of 80 gang members and the seizure of drugs and other potential lethal weapons.
“At every arrest, valuable information arrives on how these corrosive bands work and in the same way we can help protect the exploited children from harm.”
* Anyone with details of the crime in their area can contact the Merseyside police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111