Rural and coastal towns to receive new Government support to tackle gang violence

Home Office report claims gang members are moving into drugs markets outside the urban areas they live and operate in

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The Independent Online

Hastings, High Wycombe, Grimsby and other rural and coastal towns will receive new Government support to tackle gang violence and exploitation, amid evidence that drug runners are increasingly operating well outside of their inner city heartlands.

Gang members are moving into drugs markets outside the urban areas they live and operate in, to avoid competition from rival gangs and to capitalise on non-metropolitan police forces with less experience of gang activity, a Home Office report said.

The problem of so-called “county lines” – which refers to the phone numbers used by drug dealers – has been growing in recent years, and has led to the exploitation of vulnerable younger people who are recruited by gangs to transport drugs around the country.

In total, nine areas – including Eastbourne, Medway and Swindon – will receive new targeted support from the Home Office, including expert advice to ensure local forces can better understand the nature of gang-related violence and exploitation. 

A National Crime Agency (NCA) report on county lines published last August found that more than half of the areas affected were coastal towns and 15 per cent were commuter towns near London.

Home Office minister Bradley said: “Gang and youth violence has a devastating impact on young people, their families and local communities.

“That’s why today we are providing more targeted support, which will allow local police and authorities to identify how best to address local challenges and identify the right measures to tackle gang-related violence and exploitation…We want to work in towns across England to make this a success.”

The NCA’s report on county lines last year identified it as an issue on a national scale, which now affects the majority of UK police forces and which almost always involves the exploitation of vulnerable people – either children or adults who require safeguarding.

Gangs use a single telephone number for drug deals, and dealers advertise through ‘business cards’.

A second Home Office report, based on surveys of police, probation and health services in 33 areas around the country, indicated that gangs were becoming “less visible” in the last two years, and were more likely to be linked to organised crime groups.

Most respondents said that gang members were now likely to be older, but there were increased concerns about the exploitation of younger people, including the sexual exploitation of girls. A small number of survey respondents in London reported gang members as young as nine years old.

Gangs were also found to have “substantial online presence”, with the use of social media was thought to be increasing in some areas.