There has been a lot of coverage in national media on the violent ‘County Lines’ methods used by urban gangs to take over the supply of hard drugs in smaller towns.
Groups target drug users through their mobile phones, intimidating vulnerable people and using their homes as a base for supplying hard drugs.
It involves a high level of violence and exploitation, so I was very concerned to hear that ‘County Lines’ had come to High Peak, and grateful to Derbyshire Police for arranging a briefing, to which I invited council representatives so we can all work together.
Chesterfield was one of the first areas to be targeted by gangs from Sheffield, so Derbyshire police have built up considerable experience in tackling the problems.
Over the last few months, High Peak police followed up information from neighbourhood policing teams who are in contact with vulnerable drug users.
They raided houses where gang members, usually from Manchester, were stationed, making numerous arrests across the High Peak area, recovering weapons and Class A drugs.
It is of enormous credit to our police that this has largely gone unnoticed. They are dealing with very serious and violent offenders, rescuing victims, taking criminals and their weapons off our streets.
As High Peak’s MP I obviously want to give as much support as I can and three areas are key.
Firstly, I am making the case for additional police support. Derbyshire’s police budget has been cut by over a quarter, with over 400 fewer officers. Police are needed across Derbyshire as there is activity from all the cities that surround us.
I’m making the case to Parliament to reverse the cuts which have enabled these gangs to set up. And I’ve asked for the decision on Buxton’s Custody Cells to include the need to deal with these criminals.
Secondly, there are six month waits for forensic testing of drugs. Police cannot charge a suspect without forensic evidence, but the time limit for pre-charge bail has been reduced to three months. I raised this with Home Office ministers who have committed to a review of forensics waiting times.
Lastly, is the ability of drug users to access treatment. If gangs no longer have enough people to sell drugs to, they will be deterred from our towns.
The police told me that even though some local users are desperate to escape this new wave of violence, there are six month waits for effective treatment, so I’m following this up with the Council and health services.
I give huge credit to our police for their actions and the bravery of officers in tackling such violence. I am giving them my full support, as I know our whole community will do.