The Gangsters Runner

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Before gangs started using the county lines model, class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine were typically supplied in remote areas by user-dealers who would sell to locals from their own supply.

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Competition in these areas was low, and violence was kept to a minimum. Read more: Not all drug dealers are the same — it's time to ditch outdated stereotypes. But in recent years, gangs have been using experience gained in the big cities to enter into smaller, satellite areas with high demand, good profit margins and low police presence.

They are leveraging violent reputations earned in the big cities to intimidate and dominate existing players in the illegal drugs market. Police in picturesque county towns such as Shrewsbury a town of about 70, people close to the Welsh border in Western England are now dealing with turf wars and homicides.

During our research, we found that one of the root causes of this problem is how normal it is among teenagers to use cannabis — and the monetary cost of this. Young people in our study began smoking weed recreationally with their friends as young as Perhaps more significant than the psychological and physical effects of cannabis use, which are heightened around the time of puberty , was the fact that weed cost money that these adolescents did not have.

The majority of county lines workers we interviewed in Merseyside owed money to a drug dealer.

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When they failed to pay, the indebted were forced into working for their dealers. Working the lines meant being deployed anywhere at any time, answering the phone without delay when their masters or clients called, and leaving their post only to meet paying customers. Some of our interviewees in Glasgow entered the trade by their own volition. They were willing to travel and simply asked known drug dealers for a job. Owing to boredom, poverty and a sense of hopelessness about their legitimate job prospects, these young people felt they had no choice but to sell drugs.

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Our findings expose a paradox at the heart of county lines — the exploited and the exploiters are often one and the same. Drug dealers, drug runners and drug users form a hierarchical structure, with the most vulnerable — the users — at the bottom. Drug runners look down on drug addicts to make themselves feel better about their own station.

The youngsters are reportedly nicknamed "Bics" by dealers, because they are seen as disposable as biro pens.

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County line gangs get their names from the mobile phones they use to coordinate drug activities outside their traditional urban dealing points to rural areas. The Daily Mail investigation also reveal a six-month undercover operation by a single police officer resulted in 72 prosecutions.

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Prosecution of children for drugs offences varies across the country because forces take different approaches. Figures obtained by The Mail under the Freedom of Information Act show that Norfolk, Devon and Dorset saw the biggest rise in arrests of minors for drug dealing. Norfolk Police Detective Sergeant Craig Bidwell, who coordinated the county lines operation, described the phenomenon as child slavery.

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