British Transport Police arrest over 900 in first year of County Lines crackdown which has regularly targeted Edinburgh Waverley
British Transport Police (BTP) have arrested more than 900 people in the first year of a crackdown on gangs using the railway to transport drugs which has regularly targeted Edinburgh’s main train station.
The Home Office funded BTP County Lines Taskforce was set up in December 2019 and has been carrying out operations at train stations and routes across Scotland, England and Wales.
County Lines is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs. The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the order of drugs.
In December, two men were arrested in connection with drug supply offences after BTP officers and police seized cannabis with an estimated street value of around £30,000 at Waverley Train Station in Edinburgh.
In October, police seized another £4,000 worth of drugs at Waverley as part of their operations and several arrests were made. This had been the fourth drugs haul by BTP at the train station in four months.
In November, Edinburgh’s Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, Divisional Commander for Edinburgh, also vowed to “crank up” work to tackle County Lines drugs operations.
Modern slavery charges
A key aim of the BTP County Lines Taskforce is to protect and safeguard the children who are often used by gangs to move drugs and cash between import and export locations, which can be hundreds of miles apart.
BTP said that the youngest of all 934 people arrested was a 13-year-old boy in Kent in September 2020 - he was carrying £1,500 in cash.
That intervention led to the charging of two people in London for modern slavery offences. The Taskforce has secured 15 modern slavery charges to date.
Teenagers caught up in County Lines are often vulnerable and victims of exploitation by older men and women who first lure them in with promises of money and status, then use acts or threats of violence to make sure they can not leave. They are then sent to far away areas with large amounts of cash and class A drugs.
Since December 2019, officers have seized £308,000 from individual stops, made 471 drug seizures and removed 168 dangerous weapons from the railway.
Taskforce lead Detective Superintendent Gareth Williams said: “One year on we have a very strong picture of how County Lines gangs are using the railway. We know where they are operating and the young age groups they target.
“This year, we’ve used the Home Office funding to bring in experts in child exploitation from notable charities committed to tackling County Lines, and we have expanded the team to make sure we can reach across England, Wales and Scotland, putting pressure on gangs wherever they operate.
“We are also in step with the wider railway industry, training their frontline staff to identify the signs of County Lines and child exploitation. They are our eyes and ears.”
While local police forces target County Lines gangs in their jurisdictions, BTP work alongside them by targeting the stations and trains these gangs use to move drugs and cash through the UK.
The Taskforce work will continue in 2021.
BTP has been asked for a full breakdown of arrest figures for Scotland and Edinburgh.