Two Shrewsbury women have been jailed after they cuckoo-ed a house in Shropshire on behalf of a drugs network operating from Merseyside.
Donna Bound, 46, of Racecourse Crescent in Shrewsbury, and Rebecca Brookes, 40, from Northwood Road in Shrewsbury, were both sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs at Shrewsbury Crown Court on Friday 17 May.
The sentencing follows an investigation launched by West Mercia Police in April 2017 after concerns were raised by local residents about drug dealing and anti-social behaviour connected to an address in Racecourse Crescent in Monkmoor.
Officers established the address had been cuckoo-ed by the women who targeted the vulnerable occupant to deal drugs on behalf of a county line drugs trafficking operation based in Bootle in Merseyside.
In a separate case a man was sentenced to 30 months at Wolverhampton Crown Court on Monday 20 May for his part in transporting drugs from the West Midlands area in to Shropshire. The man from Bilston was arrested after a member of the public reported suspicious activity and passed details of the car he was using to police. He was stopped and found in possession of crack cocaine and heroin. Subsequent searches resulted in 18 mobile phones linked to the drugs trade being recovered.
The sentences come as West Mercia Police continues to tackle serious and organised crime, which includes county lines, as part of Protect, in partnership with other agencies.
County lines is the name given to drug dealing networks using a dedicated phone line to facilitate the supply of drugs from one town or city to another with the practice often seeing criminal networks based in larger urban cities use the line to supply drugs into smaller towns.
Earlier this month the force took part in a national county lines intensification week, led by the National Crime Agency. During the week warrants were carried out across the county with a number of people arrested.
Officers worked with British Transport Police targeting individuals travelling by train to transport drugs into the county and visits were made to the occupants of homes identified as being vulnerable to being cuckoo-ed.
Cuckoo-ing sees drug dealers befriend someone who normally lives alone and is vulnerable, either through drug or alcohol dependency, to use their home to facilitate drug dealing.
Chief Superintendent Kevin Purcell is the policing lead for Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin and says police alone cannot tackle county lines and is grateful to the part partner agencies are playing.
He said: "County lines is a national issue and not just something we are experiencing here, most towns and cities across the country are experiencing issues with county lines. We know violence and criminal exploitation is inherent to county lines drug dealing and that it exploits vulnerable people, including children and those with mental health or addiction problems and it is important we all work together to step up our response, working to identify and take effective action.
"Enforcement activity alone, such as carrying out warrants and making arrests, will not sufficiently tackle county lines, we need education and awareness of the signs and every agency to know the part they can play and I'm really grateful for the support we have for our serious and organised crime joint action groups. These groups see us work with our colleagues in the local authority, NHS, probation service as well as the fire service and regional organised crime unit to strengthen our activity to target those we suspect are involved or vulnerable to being targeted to make sure they are safeguarded and protected from harm right across Shropshire.
"Our local councillors have recently, quite rightly, raised concerns about this emerging problem and I hope they feel reassured around the work we're doing jointly to take action and would like to thank them for their on-going support.
"Our local communities play a key part, information from them is absolutely crucial and I would encourage anyone who believes a home near them is being cuckoo-ed or someone they know is being exploited by criminal gangs to get in contact with us."
Signs of cuckoo-ing include:-
- Other people inside a house of flat who don't normally live there.
- People coming and going from the property.
- More taxis and cars than usual appearing at the property.
- Not seeing the person who lives there as frequently.
- When you do see the occupant, they may appear anxious or distracted.
- Seeing drugs paraphernalia near to the property.
Signs someone may be being criminally exploited include:-
- Changes in their behaviour or wellbeing.
- Regularly going missing from home or school
- Making unusual purchases or transactions
- Socialising with unfamiliar people
- Having access to money they can't account for.
- Buying expensive goods they may not be able to afford.
- Having multiple phones, tables or SIM cards.
To report concerns about county lines or cuckoo-ing to police ring 101 or alternatively information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.