Drug users who ordered by phone stunned by police texting them ‘We want to help you’

Middle-class recreational drug users have been targeted by UK police forces warning them they have been identified – after officers seized county lines dealers’ phones.

MailOnline has learned at least two major constabularies have used mobiles confiscated from suppliers to find their customers.

Officers have accessed contacts lists on the burner phone handsets to send out the warnings via text.

So far it has been used by Thames Valley Police and Nottinghamshire Police forces.

It fires a shot across the bows for many weekend drug users who may have thought their recreational habit would fly under the radar.

And the developments also raise the prospect that their contact numbers are now on a police system connected to the dealer’s case – even if they only bought something once.

One suspected supplier in Bestwood, Notts, provided a hundred leads to officers through his seized mobile.

They were texted to be asked if they had a drug habit or had been exploited by a county lines dealer.

The text sent to mobile phone users from Thames Valley Police

Both Nottinghamshire and Thames Valley Police forces are sending out the messages 

Mohammed Nasir, 22, of Luton, was jailed for three years and four months for drugs offences

Mohammed Nasir, 22, of Luton, was jailed for three years and four months for drugs offences

In the Thames Valley area the same tactic was used after the illegal-activity mobiles were taken by the force.

Its message says it comes from Thames Valley Police and support group One Recovery Bucks.

It tells recipients that a drug line has been shut down which has identified their number.

The text continues to tell the phone owner ‘We want to help you with your substance misuse’.

It ends with the promise that further information will be sent to the same device.

Caroline Henry, newly appointed PCC for Nottinghamshire insisted the messages were intended to help not warn.

She added: ‘I was elected on a mandate to back communities and this includes cracking down on county lines and the associated exploitation and substance misuse which has such a devastating impact.

‘My priority, and that of the force, is to ensure we place victims and residents at the heart of our policing priorities and get tough on the criminal networks which exploit vulnerable people.

Almost 100 kilos of cocaine seized by Border Force, Sussex and Thames Valley Police in 2020

Almost 100 kilos of cocaine seized by Border Force, Sussex and Thames Valley Police in 2020

What are county lines gangs?

The term county lines refers to the individual phone lines used by gangs to sell and distribute drugs.

The gangs, which are linked to increasing violence in provincial towns and shire counties, recruit children and teenagers to transport drugs from cities to the provinces. 

Figures released earlier this year in a National Crime Agency report showed more than 3,000 gangs were reported by police in 2019 – double the 1,500 of 2018.

It is also a four-fold increase since 2017 when there were 720 operations shipping heroin and crack cocaine from cities to provincial towns.

Despite a crackdown by forces, figures from the National County Lines Coordination Centre show 800 to 1,100 phone lines advertising drugs are active every month.

Gangs are recruiting an army of youngsters to replace those arrested for dealing, with the report warn-ing that children as young as 11 are being intimidated into becoming ‘runners’.

And the number of young people being groomed to become money mules – so criminals can access their savings accounts – has shot up by 26 per cent since 2017.

The report warns: ‘Exploitation in county lines drugs supply remains the most frequently identified form of coerced criminality with children the vast majority of victims.’

‘This innovative approach directs individuals to the support they need, giving them a way out of crime and an opportunity to have a more positive role in our communities.’

Police believe that the simple 10p text message can disrupt drug dealing activities.

They say they decided to carry out the unusual approach following intel vulnerable and young people were being coerced by crime networks to carry out their bidding. 

Detective Inspector Paul Lefford said: ‘It’s crucial that we think of different ways to start a conversation with those vulnerable drug dependent users and help turn their life around.

‘It’s important to reach out to people not only to support them, but by helping them stop their drug abuse, we would see fewer people commit crimes to feed their habit and prevent crime before it happens.

‘By seizing devices during raids, we have an opportunity to obtain a wealth of knowledge that can help with the force’s investigations.

‘Drugs gangs exploit drug users and we know there are people who may feel trapped by their lifestyle or frightened to get help.

‘We want them to know there is a way out and there are people who can help them through our partners if they wish to receive it.

‘Intelligence suggests that people are being exploited to carry out drug dealing on behalf of the line.

‘We’ve made a number of significant arrests recently and will continue to pursue county lines drug activity.

‘The force’s county lines team works closely to our key partners to keep people safe and, whether that’s by prosecuting drug dealers or supporting vulnerable people to break free from a particular lifestyle.

‘Our message is clear, if you a drug dealer in Nottinghamshire and you are looking to recruit, exploit and profit financially by exploiting the vulnerable we will use every tactic available to us to locate, enforce and prosecute you.

Containers being cut into by police investigating county lines

One officer used a power tool to get into the metal box

This morning the Metropolitan Police searched more than 200 shipping containers at a commercial container yard in Purfleet, Essex during dawn raids on a suspected county lines drugs gang.

‘We hope this tactic will be successful. If the support services manage to talk to one vulnerable person and they seek the support they need, then in my view the initiative will have been a success.’

Neither Thames Valley Police nor One Recovery Bucks responded to requests to comment when approached by MailOnline. 

The message was revealed on the same day Thames Valley Police trumpeted the results of an investigation they said showed ‘county drug lines or organised crime’ would be targeted.

It saw a man sentenced for drug and driving offences which took place in Aston Clinton, near Aylesbury.

Mohammed Nasir, 22, of Luton, was jailed for three years and four months at Aylesbury Crown Court last Thursday.

Police say he had already pleaded guilty to two counts of possession with intent to supply a Class A drugs, namely heroin and crack cocaine, and one count of dangerous driving on April 29.

Officers clocked him at 1pm on December 15 last year, as he drove along the A41 in Aston Clinton in an Audi A6, towards Aylesbury.

When they tried to stop him he sped off and when they were finally able to halt him arrested the motorist.

It was discovered that he was in possession of £1,650 worth of Class A drugs, multiple phones and also cash.

Investigating officer PC Gary Ratcliffe, of Aylesbury police station, said: ‘Nasir drove at speed along the A41, in such a manner causing danger to not only himself, but innocent members of the public.

‘However, swift work from our officers meant that he was arrested shortly after making off, preventing any further dangerous driving and causing any risk to the public on what is a busy road.

‘After being stopped, Nasir was found to be in possession of Class A drugs, mobile phones and cash in his car. He was charged the next day.

‘Now he has been sentenced after pleading guilty due to the strong evidence against him, he can reflect on his offending while serving this sentence.

‘Anyone involved in County Drug lines or organised crime within Aylesbury Vale will be targeted by the Stronghold Team and will continue to be pursed until the line or crime group are no more.’

This morning the Metropolitan Police searched more than 200 shipping containers at a commercial container yard in Purfleet, Essex during dawn raids on a suspected county lines drugs gang.

It is believed the gang used the site for storage, with investigators discovering drugs, cash, weapons and three stolen off-road vehicles in the first few hours of searching. 

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