The expansion of drug-smuggling networks, known as County Lines, from urban areas to rural counties has targeted Northamptonshire, now one of the worst affected regions in the country. A Home Office inspection last year found that the Northamptonshire Police “require improvement” when dealing with organised crime.
In April, the Corby Borough Council learned that Corby has one county line, which is shared with Kettering, East Northants has four, Wellingborough has two and Kettering has sixteen.
Northamptonshire gangs, found predominantly in areas near Wellingborough, Peterborough, Northampton and Kettering, present themselves on social media living lives of luxury, giving the false impression that crime does pay.
Not only are these gangs pushing illegal products, but there is evidence that child sexual exploitation is becoming a staple of the County Line community. Northamptonshire police have been issuing warnings about the dangers of “cuckooing”. Cuckooing involves a drug dealer befriending an individual who lives alone so that their residence can be used as a drugs den. Victims are often vulnerable and isolated people.
New reports show that short-term lets and guest houses are also increasingly being used as temporary dens to store drugs and cash.
Recent arrests across the county include the sentencing of two men at Northampton Crown Court for their part in a gang-related shooting in Wellingborough. In October, police arrested eighteen people and seized more than £5,000 in Northamptonshire. In January, fifteen further people with links to county lines drug gangs were arrested by officers in Northamptonshire.
In February, the National Crime Agency’s report on the county lines crisis showed that the number of supply lines nationally has increased in the last year from 750 to 2,000. Children aged between 15 and 17 make up the bulk of vulnerable people involved in county lines, with both girls and boys are being groomed and exploited.
Detective Chief Inspector Tony Hopkins from Northamptonshire Police, said: “Tackling gangs, including those involved in the supply of drugs is one of our top priorities and one which we are taking a robust approach to”.
The Chronicle’s requests to the police for local crime statistics relating to county lines and knife crime under the Freedom of Information Act was unfulfilled due to “resourcing and an increased volume”.