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Police crackdown on county lines gangs in West Berkshire

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ORGANISED crime groups are running six county drug lines in West Berkshire.

Thames Valley Police say they are using mobile phone lines to move illegal drugs from cities to the largely rural district.

According to police, gangs coerce children and vulnerable adults into moving drugs and money.

They are also known to use extreme violence, weapons and intimidation to keep control of their drug lines.

The force has run several operations over the last year to crackdown on county line drug gangs operating in West Berkshire and made 12 arrests in recent months.

During the latest one in November – known as Operation FLIP – 17 people were arrested and £500,000 worth of drugs were seized during three raids in West Berkshire.

Officers also recovered £450,000 of cash.

Superintendent Zahid Aziz, Local Police Area Commander for West Berkshire, said the dealers are coming from places like London, Reading and Bristol.

“They come from almost every direction into West Berkshire,” he said.

“They exist or operate within small time-frames – of two to three days or maybe up to two weeks – and then to leave and re-emerge some time down the line.

“It’s quite difficult to gather the intelligence in such a small space of time and then execute a (search) warrant in a timely fashion so that when we get there the drugs or cash is in place.”

He added: “We currently have six active drug lines within West Berkshire.

“These drug lines are monitored and tackled through intelligence building.

“It’s a long process and we have some quite challenging organised crime groups active in West Berkshire.”

Dealers also take over vulnerable people’s homes, offering them free drugs or money so they can set up a base for their criminal activity. This is known as cuckooing.

Superintendent Aziz said the force has used closure orders to shut down three West Berkshire properties in recent months, due to concerns about drug dealing.

His comments came at a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Commission on April 20.

At the meeting, he said West Berkshire has the lowest crime rate in the Thames Valley.

He also revealed West Berkshire recorded the lowest number of knife crime offences in the Thames Valley in 2020/21, with 54.

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