County Lines: Why drug phenomenon has hit Wales so hard

July 20, 2018 in News by RBN Staff


Source: BBC


Matthew Cassidy in Wok & Go, Shotton
Image captionMatthew Cassidy caught on CCTV inside Wok & Go

There is rising violence in towns across Wales as drug gangs from the UK’s big cities fight for control of the market. BBC Wales Investigates has discovered there are now thought to be over 1,000 so-called County Lines drug networks across the UK – a four-fold increase in four years – recruiting children as young as 13. So why is Wales being hit so hard?

This report contains strong language

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Matthew Cassidy’s last meal was served to him early evening at a restaurant in Shotton, Flintshire.

He was 19 years old but as he left Wok & Go with another teenager he had dined with, he had less than an hour-and-a-half to live.

The final moments of his life were violent to say the least. A resident of a block of flats in nearby Connah’s Quay, where Matthew was murdered, recalled hearing “horrifying screams”.

Matthew, who had come to the area from his native Liverpool only the day before, was stabbed to death.

Of the nine wounds inflicted on him, one went through his heart.

Outside the flat where Matthew Cassidy was fatally wounded
Image captionOutside the flat where Matthew Cassidy was fatally wounded

“What we know is that he struggled from that location, probably ran from his assailant, made it up to the first floor but has either fallen or been dragged backwards and his body was found on the landing,” said Det Supt Iestyn Davies.

He was further stabbed with the same kitchen knife as he lay dying shortly before 20:00 BST on Sunday 29 May last year.

It was not long before the police investigation began piecing together the depressing background to Matthew Cassidy’s death.

The end of his short life embodies a UK-wide national problem which has sprung up virtually “overnight” – a problem that has hit the region of north Wales particularly hard.

Matthew Cassidy ran upstairs but was chased and further attacked
Image captionMatthew Cassidy ran upstairs but was chased and further attacked
Matthew Cassidy
Image captionMatthew Cassidy had only just moved to north Wales

Trying to cope with it has changed the face of policing as North Wales Police is faced with the highest proportion of organised crime of all the four Welsh forces.

“It has become a national problem in the scheme of things almost overnight,” said Tony Saggers, former head of drugs threat and intelligence at the National Crime Agency.

“It’s a growing problem based upon the success of what is basically a very ruthless business model.”

The astonishingly effective business model? County Lines.

Its sales reps? Children and young people hungry for money and a stake in society.

Urban gangs have found their traditional markets in big cities have become saturated and dangerous.

By expanding their business into the provinces – sending young people there to act as runners – they not only stand to make huge profits but have less resistance from local dealers and a lower risk of being known by police.

The National Crime Agency estimates half the communities targeted by County Lines are small coastal towns. With its proximity to Liverpool and Manchester, north Wales has found itself a prime target.

Children as young as 13 lured by the promise of “easy money” are groomed and trafficked out of major cities to the provinces or “counties”.

Once in situ, they sell drugs via dedicated mobile phone numbers or “lines”.

“This is how it works,” explains DC Vicky Knight, based in the seaside town of Rhyl, Denbighshire.

“The drug runners arriving in small towns give customers an untraceable mobile phone number with its own brand name – this is the county line number.

DC Vicky Knight
Image captionDC Vicky Knight says drugs customers are given an untraceable mobile phone number

“The key is this mobile number is held back in the city by an anonymous dealer. They have no obvious contact with the drugs but have total control over what is being sold and when.”

Like a legitimate business, subscribers will be sent texts offering special deals and fire sales.

It is lucrative to say the least. Phone lines can make up to £3,000 a day. And as with legitimate business, that level of wealth inevitably attracts competition.

But competition in the drugs trade inevitably means violence.

Police investigating the murder of Matthew Cassidy arrested David Woods, then also aged 19, and from Liverpool.

CCTV of David Woods entering a shop
Image captionWoods enters a shop with Cassidy. Police believe he had already planned to murder him
Matthew Cassidy entering a shop behind his murderer
Image captionCassidy walked into the shop behind Woods

“Woods had been involved for six months, working for a specific gang supply chain from Liverpool city itself,” explains Det Supt Davies.

“So, two different Liverpool gangs with different telephone lines in Connah’s Quay. So Cassidy turns up the day before, believed to be sent by a rival gang. Clearly, David Woods wanted to protect his patch…

“We think Cassidy was employed to take over the drugs scene in Connah’s Quay. Woods realised what was going on. He wasn’t going to put up with anyone disturbing his business.

“My firm belief is that Woods went out to befriend Cassidy, to lure Cassidy to his death on that day.”

David Woods
Image captionDavid Woods admitted killing Matthew Cassidy while he was on trial for his murder

Some youngsters are caught before they can come to harm.

Kyle Graham, then 18, from Runcorn in Cheshire, had been dealing in Bangor, Gwynedd, for five days when he was arrested.

Kyle Graham
Image captionKyle Graham was arrested five days after he started dealing in Bangor

A court heard he owed £200 in a drug debt and was ordered to go to Bangor where for 13 hours a day he would sell drugs from a lane in the town where his supplies were constantly replenished.

Each day he would sell £1,000 worth of Class A drugs – primarily heroin and crack cocaine – but his cut amounted to just £50.

Pleading guilty, Graham was sentenced to three years.

But his conviction would have been of little concern to the drugs gang he worked for.

“The adults use them for anonymity and to minimize and to exclude the risks that come along with drug dealing,” Tony Saggers said.

Tony Saggers, former head of drugs threat and intelligence at the National Crime Agency.
Image captionTony Saggers, former head of drugs threat and intelligence at the National Crime Agency.

“If you look at it ruthlessly, they’re looking to recruit more people than they need, ultimately to have people on standby to send into those towns so that if a couple of them get arrested, the city-based drug dealer can continue without any real impact by using the next two young people who are waiting to go into supply.”

Drug runners or mules are recruited on the streets of the UK’s big cities and joining a gang can seem like a tempting choice.

London-based gang members, who agreed to speak to BBC Wales Investigates anonymously, explained how they got involved.

“We’ve got no GCSEs, government’s not giving us no job so we have to get it ourselves,” one said.

“I got no college, no nothing, so I had to go to the ‘elders’ and they brought me in.

“They sent me up a few times, I made good money. Then I got arrested and then I came back and set up my own line and now it’s running… made good money man.”

Drug dealers who operate a County Line from London

Recruiting runners to dispatch to the provinces is easy they said.

“They want in on it,” one said. “They see us making the money. Why not? They want a job, simple.

“You know what? There are people in bad homes, those kids, we grab them quick, they have nothing to do. We give them a little job to do, send them off, make our money, make their money – everyone is eating right.

“The feds (police) won’t even look at them. Sometimes walking down the road, the feds would have their eyes on us… but the young buck will be walking down and the feds won’t take them on.

“So that’s why it’s good to send them out to do the job for us. Not like they’re doing it for free. They are getting payment.”

When asked if youngsters – who they arm with knives and who are routinely expected to hide drugs inside their bodies – do not deliver or lose drugs, the gang members reply: “They get touched.”

What does that mean? “They get hurt.”

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