A GOVERNMENT crackdown aims to stop urban drugs gangs targeting rural communities.
Under the plan, mobile phones will be shut down if they are used by drug gangs and couriers to deal remotely in rural areas.
The so-called "county lines" operations involve urban dealers expanding their crack and heroin business into small town markets.
Often they operate remotely through the use of specific mobile phone numbers.
See also: Drugs gangs target market towns
The gangs then exploit children and vulnerable people as couriers to move drugs and money between the new market and their urban hub.
The model means dealers can peddle class A drugs without having to visit their markets – cutting the risk of being picked up and arrested by local police.
Now the gangs face having their so-called 'deal-lines' shut down by the police under new laws being proposed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
The use of dedicated mobile phone lines has been identified by the National Crime Agency (NCA) as a key tactic by the drug gangs.
If passed, the law will compel the relevant communications provider to disconnect a mobile, SIM card or phone number where it can be proved they are being used in connection with drug offences.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: "Gang violence, drug dealing and exploitation have a devastating impact on vulnerable young people, their families and local communities."
The government was determined to take action to shut down these phone lines.
Ms Rudd said doing so would send a "very clear message" that this criminal activity would not be tolerated.
The National Crime Agency published its second report into the county lines drug distribution in November last year.
It found that over 70% of police forces in England and Wales are now reporting activity within their area.
The report was co-authored by Tony Saggers, who is the agency's head of drugs threat and intelligence.
He said: "Urban street gangs operating under the county lines model have become a nationwide problem."
County lines relied heavily upon anonymously acquired mobile phones, used as deal lines, branded to particular gangs and their reputation.
"The numbers have a high value in their own right to crime groups, who can't simply replace them quickly and start over, so taking them out of service is a powerful disruptive tool.
A typical line will likely generate in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 per day. Due to the high number of lines, this has the potential to aggregate to over £2 million per week in illicit revenue.
Mr Saggers said: "These lines are at the very heart of high volume drug supply, which in turn leads to the daily exploitation of young and vulnerable people."
The proposed legislation would add significant value to law enforcement initiatives to combat gang activity and remove confidence in their operating model.
Last July, the government launched a new partnership with the Institute for Community Safety (ICS), providing funding to support communities facing new gang-related threats.
It brings together frontline professionals such as teachers, police officers and youth workers to identify problems in their local areas.
This information is then used to develop tailor-made plans to tackle gang violence and exploitation.
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