The journalist who conducted a year-long investigation into county lines drug gangs has described how she gained the trust of the local community in Swansea to report on how nationwide drug dealing affects South Wales.
Joining Eamonn Holmes on the talkRADIO drive time show, Emma Grant, a reporter at sister station The Wave, described how she sat in on police meetings about tackling county lines drug selling in an unprecedented move that saw her party to discussions journalists wouldn’t normally get to hear.
She gained an insight into the effect on the community through conversing with local residents and those who help vulnerable people at risk of being targeted by drug gangs.
'Threatened if they wanted to share information'
A drug user holding a syringe. Image: Getty
“I was approached by a young mum who had a son, [living] opposite a flat where a male was living on his own initially,” said Ms Grant on one of her interviewees.
“Over a period of time they noticed three young girls about 14, 15 years of age, living at the property, coming and going at all times of the day. She was really concerned and she raised the alarm, and it turned out these girls were part of a gang, they’d been dealing, and they were involved in the sex industry as well.
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“That’s just one person who was involved. What we’re hearing as well, speaking to sex workers - they were reluctant to talk to me, so I had to speak to counsellors and support workers who go out on the streets to protect them - they were threatened, they were being threatened if they wanted to speak or share information.
“They were scared, some of them were being raped once a week, and they don’t go to the police about that because they think it’s part of their job. But what we found out was those who are street walkers, are linked to county lines that we know of.”
During the investigation, Ms Grant was told of teenagers are being trafficked to the UK to act as runners and recruit children, and shockingly, parents trading their children for drugs or to get rid of their debt.
Over 400 arrests
Figures from the National Crime Agency show there are more than 1,000 county line gangs operating across the UK, with 200 active investigations into them.
In South Wales alone, there have been 400 arrests over the last 12 months, and Martin Jones, Chief Superintendant for South Wales Police, told Holmes that “the people we’ve caught over the last few months have had over 200 years imprisonment sentences. We are making a big dent in these gangs.”
He added that investigating county lines operations was often difficult when a phone was the bulk of the evidence.
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“What county lines relates to is the fact that these gangs travel across county boundaries, and the lines as well relate to phone lines, that’s the business model,” he said.
“They use runners through mobile phones, and all we get is phones. It’s very difficult to tackle the criminality.”
The people running the operation were “a long way away from the vulnerable communities” they exploit, added Ms Grant.
“There’s a pyramid model where mobile technology is making it easier - you’ll get the ‘deal of the day’ text to you like a supermarket,” she said.
But in reality, far from just selling drugs by text, the gangs were taking over the lives of vulnerable people, from the teenage girls Ms Grant spoke of, to drug users whose houses they took over to establish a base in the area, known as ‘cuckooing’.
Read and listen to the full investigation here.