POLICE across Herefordshire are continuing to target county lines drug gangs during lockdown alongside colleagues in Worcester and Shropshire.

County lines drug gangs exploit young or vulnerable people, using sophisticated grooming techniques to coerce them into selling drugs, before using fear and violence to control them.

For many young people the lure of extra money or gifts, such as expensive trainers or clothes, can seem tempting. But these tactics mean the young person is then in the debt of the drugs gang and owes them a favour, which they call in by coercing them into carrying a weapon or selling drugs.

County lines drug gangs have no issue in putting a young or vulnerable person at risk to facilitate their drug dealing.

Chief Superintendent Tom Harding, Head of Local Policing, said: “We know that some young and vulnerable people have been put in difficult and frightening situations and have made decisions that have unfortunately changed their lives and the lives of others forever.

“I want to send a clear message to county lines drug gangs exploiting young and vulnerable people in our communities that despite the country being in lock down we are continuing to focus our efforts to target them.

“The public play a huge part in supporting our work and I would encourage anyone who is concerned someone they know is being targeted to let us know.

“We want friends to look out for each other. We know the past few weeks have been difficult for young people and they have not been able to meet up with their friends, but it could be they know one of their friends is still going out and meeting up with older people, maybe they have started to talk about expensive gifts they have been given, or talk about associating with older people.

“We know some young people may not want to talk to the police about their concerns, they don’t need to. Information can be passed anonymously to Fearless, an organisation dedicated to young people with a host of information and advice.”

Signs of drug dealing include unexpected visitors coming and going from a neighbour’s house at all hours of the day or night, a continual stream of visitors who don’t stay long, or who arrive with electrical items, bikes or bags but leave without them, potential transactions carried out through car windows outside properties, or a young person (who is not their child) suddenly living in a neighbour’s house.

Signs that a young person might be being groomed or exploited repeatedly going missing from home or their care home, significant changes in their well-being, coming home with money or items they can’t afford, self harm, and being secretive about where they are, what they are doing, who they are seeing.

Many of these signs might just be down to typical teenage challenges and part of growing up, exam pressures, boredom in lockdown, teenage relationships or other stressful issues. But they could also be signs that a young person is being groomed or used by criminals or gangs.

Concerns can be reported online here or anonymously contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online here or on 0800 555 111 or online.

Young people can pass on information anonymously and find further information and advice on the Fearless website here.