8 XL bullies and hundreds of weapons seized in county lines drug gang raids

By Staff

Eight XL bully dogs and more than 600 weapons including guns, nunchucks and knuckledusters have been seized in a week of police raids on county lines drug gangs.

A total of 1,874 suspects were arrested across the country in the week ending March 10, with 245 drug dealing phone lines closed down. Another 1,653 people who were being exploited by the gangs, just over half of them children, have been brought to safety.

Detective Superintendent Dan Mitchell, head of the county lines coordination centre, told the PA news agency that police had now shut an estimated 5,000 drugs lines since 2019, but he believed there to still be at least 4,000 remaining.

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“In April 2022, we had a commitment to close 2,000 lines, which we exceeded in half the time,” he said.

“And so we’ve made a new commitment to close another 1,000 lines by August and seizing 245 last week is another key step towards that new ambition.

“So we think there could still be upwards of 4,000, but what we have seen since 2019, since we’ve done all this activity over the last few years, we’ve seen a reduction in the number of county lines that emanate from the big cities of Liverpool, London, Manchester and Birmingham so those four big exporter areas.

“We’re seeing fewer lines coming out of these areas now which is really positive, and we’re also seeing less children coming to notice and being involved on those lines.”

Every police force across the UK joined in with and contributed to the week of raids.

Mr Mitchell said he was concerned at the increased number of bladed weapons seized compared to the last intensification week in 2023, and highlighted a strong link between knife crime and county lines gangs.

Some of the 466 bladed weapons seized by police, including rambo knives and machetes, he believed had gained popularity through social media.

“There’s a greater awareness and with social media, we’ve seen viral videos of people with machetes fighting and I wonder if that then sets a trend where people think ‘those are the weapons we want to go and get’ and obviously, during the intensification week, those are the weapons that we were seizing, which is really concerning,” he said.

Det Supt Mitchell also said the XL bully breed had become a “status symbol for drugs gangs” after eight were seized in the raids, and that the dogs were used to “intimidate and create fear”.

He compared them to imitation firearms, of which he said 46 had been seized: “An imitation firearm isn’t a real gun, but it appears as if it is and it causes fear and harm, and it can be used to intimidate.”

“I think that’s probably what’s happening here the XL bully is acting in a similar way, because of all the media around it, now it’s been labelled as a dangerous dog and has been banned.”

Officers seized class A and B drugs, including crack, heroin, cocaine and cannabis, worth more than £2.5 million.

They also visited 1,284 addresses that had been taken over by the drug gangs in a process known as cuckooing. This is where vulnerable people are forced to allow criminals to use their homes as a base for storing or dealing drugs.

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Policing minister Chris Philp said: “County lines gangs inflict harrowing damage and misery, using violence and intimidation to exploit children and vulnerable people to do their dirty work.”

“Our police forces work incredibly hard every day to break up these criminal networks and I want to pay thanks to our officers for their continued efforts to tackle this vile activity.”

Children can be forced into acting as couriers for county lines gangs, as well as being tricked into taking part in financial crimes.

Mr Mitchell said a new trend police saw during the week of raids involved drug gangs using children’s bank accounts to store money, ultimately trapping young people in the system.

“Some of the £1.8 million in cash that we seized last week, some of that money will be put through children’s bank accounts,” he said.

“This is one of the tactics they’re using to launder it, so that’s just one of the ways that children are being financially exploited.”

James Simmonds-Read, national programme manager at The Children’s Society, said: “Sadly, financial exploitation is often connected to other forms of abuse.”

“What may start with sharing bank details and the promise of easy cash can then turn into threats of sexual abuse or children being made to hold or move drugs for criminal groups.”

“It’s a serious problem which needs attention to protect children from being exploited.”

“Financial exploitation can happen to any child, in any village, town or city regardless of their background.”

“While criminals don’t care about the children they target online through gaming and social media platforms, or places like shops and cashpoints, we know the public do care about keeping children safe.”

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