Patience is the key when it comes to disrupting county lines

PATIENCE is the key when it comes to disrupting gangs which are intent on bringing drugs into Essex.

That’s the view of Detective Chief Inspector Lewis Basford who has now led Essex Police’s Serious Violence Unit for just over a year.

In that time, the countywide teams have made 344 arrests with 212 charges and seized 141 drug lines

As a result, there are now fewer County Lines – 34 – in operation across the county than ever before.

However, DCI Basford has said there is no chance of complacency creeping into his teams – in fact he believes the best is yet to come from the county’s drug officers.

He said: “What we are doing is working ‘top-down’ instead of ‘bottom up’. We are going after the people who are holding the lines – that’s where we see the biggest harm. But it does take patience; we have to bide our time a little bit.

“Only by doing that can we dismantle the lines and take drugs off the streets of Essex.”

He added: “Are drugs always going to be sold in Essex? The reality is, yes. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. It requires so much more than that and, for us, that means case building.
“You could arrest people, bail them or release them under investigation and then begin case building but we prefer to case build before making those key arrests.”

As a result of that process, of the 170 arrests made by the Serious Violence Unit in the first three months of this year, 91 of those were remanded, which means the Crown Prosecution Service has accepted there is already enough evidence to charge an individual without them having to be bailed or released under investigation.

Mr Basford added: “What we’re now starting to see in Essex is sentences of the like of more than three years rather than 15 to 18 months.

“That’s because the evidence we are able to provide might, for example, lift defendants from one level in the sentencing guidelines to a higher one, which obviously brings with it stronger sentences.”

Last week, the ringleaders of an organised crime group in Harlow which supplied drugs to county lines gangs were jailed for a combined total of more than 40 years.

The operation was estimated to have earned the gang at least £500,000 which was stashed in Bitcoin or laundered through a pub ringleader Christopher Golding ran as a licensee.

The eight men had sentences handed down to them on Thursday and Friday last week.

We have also seen Jake Gregory, James Martin, William Locke and Jake Holliday jailed for a total of 30 years and three months for selling drugs in north Essex.

They processed the drugs at a house in Halstead, before putting them in glass jars and burying them in two rural locations in Colchester.

They’d then retrieve them from the hiding places to process and sell on.

During the investigation, officers found 2.5kg of drugs with an estimated street value of up to £180,000 between September and December 2019.

We also secured a jail sentence for a London drug dealer who sold heroin and cocaine in Chelmsford.

Armand Mpita was identified by officers during an investigation into the Khan drugs line between July last year and February this year.

He was arrested in February and charged with three counts of supplying heroin and four counts of supplying crack cocaine.

The 28-year-old initially denied the offences but changed his pleas to guilty at Ipswich Crown Court on Tuesday 18 May.

Mpita, of Manor Road in West Ham, London, was sentenced the same day to a total of three years and seven months and was also made subject of a Serious Crime Prevention Order, which lasts for five years after his release from prison.

However, going after the ‘top’ of the gangs doesn’t mean the drug dealing which goes on within our communities will be tolerated.

And because of our force growth programme, which has allowed us to recruit an extra 151 police officers in 2020/21, and another planned 184 this year, we have been able to create our Disruptor Teams.

They are tasked with being the local proactive teams and are there to tackle drug dealing which is affecting our communities on a daily basis.

The teams work closely with local policing teams and intelligence departments to provide an effective option in developing and acting upon community intelligence.

Indeed, although County Lines drug dealing affects many parts of Essex, what works in tackling it in Colchester may not necessarily work in Southend, or vice versa.

Mr Basford added: “With Southend, we know the gangs are using a model which requires link up with people, often youngsters, who are more local who will then be doing the dealing locally. Whereas in Colchester, it is still generally people physically bringing their product from London to the town.

“Combating them requires different tactics and we are always working on ways we can do that – some we can talk about, some we can’t.”

Looking forward, Mr Basford added: “We’re always going to be talking about suppression. Would I love to get the number of County Lines in Essex down to zero? Of course, but the nature of what we do means we are always going to find more. If you’re looking for them, as we are, then we’re going to find them.”

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