In a case which is the first of its kind, two gang members have been convicted for running a “county line” drug network across the UK, whilst kidnapping a 19-year old woman to conduct the transport of the drugs.
Mahad Yusuf, 20, and Fesal Mahamud, 19, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and trafficking a 19-year-old woman, who was forced to transport drugs from London to Swansea, at Swansea crown court.
Detailing the case, the police said the victim, who was from London, was in contact with one of the gang members on social media before she met them. It was then that she was lured into a car and kidnapped by Yusuf who destroyed her phone and told her that “she belonged to him”. The victim was then reported missing and went unfound for a further five days until the police raided an address where she was forced to store Class A drugs.
Scotland Yard’s gang crime unit, Trident, urged gangs to heed the strong message that the prosecution sends out. DI Rick Sewart said:
“This prosecution is a clear message to any drug dealer that if you exploit young people we will find you, bring you to justice and you will feel the full force of the law.”
Meanwhile, the Home Office has offered its support and encouragement for the Modern Slavery Act being used to target such a fundamentally harmful criminal act.
“I am pleased to see police taking full advantage of the legislative powers available including the Modern Slavery Act to tackle this scourge.”
The pair will be sentenced at Swansea crown court on 4 January.
What is “county lines” drug dealing?
“County lines” drug dealing is becoming an increasing concern in British society, with the NCA publishing a report last month about the prevalence of the model.
Essentially, county lines drug dealing involves a mobile phone which will be used by a particular gang for drug users throughout the country to contact them for drugs. Vulnerable people, such as those who live alone, have little money or are very young will then usually be exploited to move drugs and money around. Those drugs and their service – the service provided by the individuals who travel around the country to supply the drugs – often become their “brand”. A member of the gang will usually scout an area before deciding to branch into it and making a “base” from which the “runner” will operate.
The report says most runners are boys aged between 14 and 17, who are lured with the promise of gifts. It estimated there are at least 720 lines used by gangs to deal hard drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine.
Ian Cruxton, NCA director of organised crime, has indicated that the purpose of such an approach is to avoid detection by law enforcement, considering the gangs target rural and coastal areas, but usually remain out of the public eye themselves.
“County lines is one way for high-level members of criminal groups to try to distance themselves from law enforcement attention. The NCA and police forces are determined not to let them do that.”
The minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, Karen Bradley, said: “County lines is an emerging national issue, which involves the exploitation of vulnerable young people and adults by violent gang members in order to move and sell drugs across the country.
“This trend has been recognised by the Home Office, NCA and national policing lead, who are improving the operational response to safeguard the vulnerable and target the most violent by ensuring that the more hidden elements of gang crime and exploitation are visible to the police and local partners.”
However, some of the teenage boys who conduct the “running” for the gangs have suggested that they enjoy it and can see a future where they are promoted to the helm of the gang, albeit it is unclear whether this is genuine or a product of them being brainwashed by the more established members of the gang.
An insightful documentary by BBC Three can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qINrg5oG4Lg&t=2366s