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?
Urban gangs have found their traditional markets in big cities have become saturated and dangerous.
By expanding their business into the provinces, 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 Rhyl.
“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.
“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.”
Kyle Graham, 18, from Runcorn in Cheshire, had been dealing in Bangor, Gwynedd, for five days when he was arrested.
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 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,” said Tony Saggers, the 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.”
BBC Wales Investigates ‘Gangs, Murder and Teenage Drug Runners’ can be seen on BBC One Wales at 9pm on Wednesday 16th May 2018.