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Suffolk 'leading way' in fight against county line drug dealing

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The number of active county lines has dropped, it has been claimed
The number of active county lines has dropped, it has been claimed

Suffolk is leading the way in the fight against drugs being supplied to rural areas from larger towns and cities, it is being claimed.

Known as 'county lines', drugs are supplied from metropolitan to rural areas usually using a single, branded mobile phone before being distributed by gangs.

But leaders of the agencies involved in the fight against drugs, such as Suffolk Police, Suffolk County Council, the youth justice system, schools and voluntary services say the number of county lines had reduced from 40 a year ago to 19.

And of those, they told Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee on Wednesday, none were considered high risk, where firearms are used as a threat, two were medium risk - where knives were involved - and the remainder low risk.

There were currently none operating in east Suffolk and five in Ipswich, said Tonya Antonis, chief superintendent county policing command, with the majority having been seen recently in the west of the county.

She said: “Suffolk is very much at the forefront. Suffolk Public Sector Leaders’ [which pledged £500,000 for a two year multi-agency approach to tackling the problem] commitment isn’t reflected anywhere else.

“We are seen as a shining light in how we get partners engaged in this rather than working as silos.”

The committee heard that there was a need to “try not to criminalise young people” who were in themselves victims.

Catherine Bennett, Suffolk county lines manager, said: “We are having conversations with some of the pupil referral units.

“We are on the start of that journey but we want to reduce school exclusions because there is a clear link between school exclusions and county lines.”

She added: “It probably takes about nine months to a year for young people to trust us, start talking with us and engaging with us.

“Children are told [by gang members] not to trust parents, social services, any of those things.”

The council’s scrutiny committee made a series of recommendations, which included taking the stigma out of speaking to support services for parents, develop measures against adults who exploited youngsters and create a sustainable funding model beyond the next 18 months, which is when the public sector leaders funding finishes.