Officers from Merseyside and Cheshire joined forces to tackle county lines drug dealing and the criminal exploitation of vulnerable adults and children on Friday 21 August.
Organised and led by Merseyside Police, with support from Cheshire Constabulary and British Transport Police, the latest Operation Medusa focused on Liverpool and Halton.
With their direct links to Liverpool by both road and rail, Runcorn and Widnes are amongst the towns that are targeted by county lines gangs based in the city.
As part of the regional operation, plain-clothed officers from Merseyside and Cheshire joined British Transport Police officers at railway stations in a bid to identify people involved in county lines drug dealing.
During the day Liverpool Lime Street, Liverpool South Parkway and the main railway stations in Runcorn and Widnes were monitored by a significant number of officers, who utilised a number of police tactics to spot people acting suspiciously and took action where necessary.
Drugs dogs were also utilised by officers at the railway stations to identify passengers in possession of illegal substances.
Plain-clothed officers were also deployed at other strategic locations in Runcorn and Widnes, and warrants were executed simultaneously at addresses in Runcorn and Liverpool by officers investigating county lines drug dealing.
In addition, a significant number of extra resources were committed to monitoring the main arterial routes in and out of Halton and Liverpool and stopping vehicles and speaking to occupants suspected of being involved in the supply of illegal drugs.
Drugs dogs also assisted officers monitoring the roads.
Warrants were addresses in Halton and Liverpool as part of the operation, and a large quantity of people and vehicles were stopped and searched.
Quantities of class A and class B drugs and cash were seized on the day, as were weapons including knives, machetes and air weapons.
A total of 14 people were subsequently arrested, with two of them since being charged with drug dealing offences.
Merseyside Police Inspector Katie Wilkinson said:
“The operation was a key part of our continued operational activity to put a stop to young people being exploited at the hands of criminal gangs.
“Organised gangs are exploiting children and vulnerable adults to move and supply drugs on their behalf.
“This lifestyle shouldn’t be glamourised and can lead to serious consequences.
“By working with our colleagues across the border, we’ll continue to showcase our extensive efforts to protect the public and arrest offenders.”
County lines drug dealing involves organised crime groups based in major cities or urban areas extending their criminal enterprise into more rural locations.
They often recruit and coerce young children and vulnerable adults to sell illegal drugs for them.
Superintendent Laura Marler, who oversees policing in Runcorn and Widnes for Cheshire Constabulary, said:
“Criminals don’t simply stop when they reach boarders. In fact, organised crime groups based in major cities are always looking to extend their criminal activities into other locations, using mobile phones to let drug users know when and where they can buy illegal drugs from them locally.
“Friday’s operation was part of our ongoing commitment to disrupt criminal activity and make Runcorn and Widnes safer places to live, work and visit.
“However, it wasn’t just about catching criminals and seizing drugs. One of the main aims was to help identify and safeguard vulnerable adults and children who are controlled, coerced and manipulated into dealing drugs on behalf of organised crime gangs.
“By doing so we can offer them the support that they require and help to set them on the right path for a better life.
“The operation has also helped us to gather further information on how transport networks are being used by county lines criminals.”
Detective Superintendent Gareth Williams, Taskforce lead at British Transport Police, said:
“British Transport Police has a unique approach to county lines. We are the only force that operates nationally, targeting gangs who use railway stations and trains across England, Scotland and Wales to transport drugs.
“This joint operation, and the many others like it, are designed to target these criminal gangs at every stage of their county lines activity, from the cities they operate from to the rail routes they use to transport drugs and the smaller towns and villages where they sell.
“The activities of these gangs breed violence and go hand-in-hand with child exploitation.
“Our experience has proven that gangs who use the railway network rely on younger people to move drugs. These individuals are victims, forced through exploitation or intimidation into desperate situations, and it’s always our priority to make support available that can get them out of harm and away from crime.”
In total, four warrants were executed during the operation, in Wheatlands and Littlegate in the Halton Brook area of Runcorn and in Roscommon Street and Anfield Road in Liverpool.
A small quantity of class B drug cannabis was seized at the address in Wheatlands but no arrests were made.
At another address in Runcorn, a quantity of what is believed to be cocaine and cannabis and drugs paraphilia were seized by officers, as were a number of weapons, including knives, machetes and an air pistol.
Two men at the property, aged 21 and 18, were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of the class A and B drugs.
After being questioned in custody, they have been released under investigation pending further enquiries.
A 46-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman were also arrested in Runcorn on suspicion of possession with intent to supply class A drugs, after being stopped and searched by officers.
The pair have subsequently been released under investigation in relation to this.
The woman has been charged with being concerned in the supply of cocaine and another class A drug, heroin, in relation to a different matter.
Also in Runcorn, a 23-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of drug driving and possession of an air weapon in a public place. He has been released under investigation.
A 20-year-old man was arrested in Widnes on suspicion of possession with intent to supply crack cocaine after being stopped and searched by officers. He has subsequently been charged with the offence.
A 24-year-old man was arrested in Widnes on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of a class B drug after officers seized a quantity of cannabis and his moped in Widnes. He has been released under investigation.
A 36-year-old man from Widnes has also been released under investigation, after being arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply heroin and crack cocaine following a stop and search.
In total, 47 people were stopped and searched in Halton, with drugs being found and seized from 10 of them.
A number of addresses have been searched in Runcorn and Widnes on the back of arrests made in the towns.
Out of the roads in the Halton area, a vehicle was seized, a driver was summoned to appear at court in relation to driving offences and two Traffic Offence Reports were issued.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire David Keane said:
“I would like to thank all the officers involved in this operation that was organised to protect communities from serious and organised crime and bring offenders to justice.
“Illegal drugs blight our communities, causing untold damage to both those that use them and the wider society who suffer from the resulting crime.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, I know that officers work tirelessly in their fight against county lines drug dealers and those who exploit and manipulate vulnerable adults and children to aid their criminal enterprises.
“Friday’s operation is a great example of how police forces work together to stamp out serious and organised crime, which has no place in our communities.”
Supt Marler added:
“We will continue to work with other forces and partner agencies to do everything in our power to protect Halton residents from serious and organised crime.
“However, we also need support from the public.
“We need residents to be our eyes and ears by looking out for, and reporting, suspicious behaviour and signs of vulnerable children and adults being exploited.
“If you have any information that may help us to build more intelligence regarding county lines drug dealing, bring offenders to justice and keep vulnerable members of our communities safe then please get in touch.
“Together we can take dangerous substances off our streets.”
For more details on how to spot the signs of county lines drug dealing, and help make Halton a safer place, visit https://www.cheshire.police.uk/police-forces/cheshire-constabulary/areas/cheshire/campaigns/campaigns/2019/impact/.
Any information regarding drug dealing in your community, no matter how small, should be reported to Cheshire Constabulary on 101, or via https://www.cheshire.police.uk.
Alternatively, you can contact independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.