Home Secretary Sajid Javid visited Swindon’s Gablecross Police Station today to meet key players in the fight against nationally organised drug gangs operating across county lines.
During his visit, Mr Javid met Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson, Swindon’s two Conservative MPs Robert Buckland, and Justin Tomlinson and well as representatives from Swindon Borough Council including leader David Renard.
Mr Javid said: “I wanted to see by coming to Swindon what work was being done here and I’m very impressed by what’s being done. And I want to see how we can support our local forces and that's both from the law enforcement side - it’s always going to be incredibly important to make sure that those who are exploiting our young people are being captured and that justice is being done.
“But just as important for us is the early intervention. There are young people children as young as 10 or 12 who are being exploited by gangs to make sure that we are working at a national or local level to make sure that this is being tackled.
“Swindon, in common with many other towns, is being targeted by big gangs and it is our priority - through the County Lines Coordination Centre and working with a range of agencies - to safeguard those vulnerable people who are exploited by these gangs looking for new markets for their drugs.”
He explained that an increase in the availability of Class A drugs had led to an overall reduction in the street price and pushed gangs to look for new markets and that communication, intelligence and cross-agency working was key to tackling this sophisticated emerging criminal trend.
A recently announced £9.1 million increase for police in Wiltshire and Swindon (equivalent to an extra £2 a month for Band D properties) will help fund 41 new police officers in Swindon to help support this drive. This will see the annual police budget increasing from £109.2m to £118.3m.
Angus said: "The Home Secretary's visit today is a boost to the dedicated staff and officers involved in the whole, complex issue of County Lines. For a small force, it shows we are recognised on a national scale - alongside the bigger forces - and that we are punching above our weight on many major issues including County Lines.
"The visit of Mr Javid also cements the on-going work the police and I are doing with Swindon Borough Council, Wiltshire Council and our other partners which is one of the crucial elements helping to tackle this problem."
Kier said: "Mr Javid was interested in our work around County Lines and was very complimentary about the hard work my staff and officers from the Crime Prevention Team, Dedicated Crime Team and Community Policing Teams carry out to reduce the harm caused by the large city drug gangs who operate in Wiltshire and exploit vulnerable people.
"We had a frank conversation about what support and opportunities the government can provide Wiltshire Police as well as discussing our partnership working which ensures that everyone who helps tackle County Lines, in the wider sense, is on board.
"With that in mind, it was also good for the Home Secretary to meet some of our Early Intervention staff who do invaluable work with children to protect them early on from being exploited and falling into crime; this also helps improve our safeguarding work with partners.
"Today is not only testament to my teams for their hard work but a good reminder that what we do is helped and supported by our partners who we work closely with around County Lines.
"The visit of a top governmental minister is extremely helpful in reminding the people of Swindon and Wiltshire that we are taking the issue of County Lines' drug gangs seriously and that we are doing everything we can to stop them."
County lines drug gangs use a single telephone number, operated from outside the area, for customers to order drugs. County line networks are having a huge impact on rural counties - with vulnerable children and adults being recruited to transport drugs and cash. The high-level criminals remain detached from the dealing and are less likely to get caught.
Anyone with information about county lines drug dealing can contact the police anonymously on 0800555111.