A HUGE county cannabis farm was targeted by police in a week that saw officers make a number of arrests across Herefordshire.

West Mercia Police responded to information about the farm with the potential to yield £3million per year as they targeted 'county lines' gangs.

West Mercia Police arrested four people from the county, executed warrants at four addresses and seized a number of mobile phones.

Across Herefordshire and Worcestershire more than £5,000 in cash was recovered during the week of intensified activity.

Police said it is their priority to target county lines drugs gangs.

Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said: "Last week's targeted activity on county lines gangs demonstrates how our officers across the two counties are working tirelessly to disrupt and dismantle drugs supply and protect the young and vulnerable people who are exploited by them in our communities.

"19 arrests have been made, various warrants and cars stopped to disrupt county lines activity. Importantly, we have safeguarded five vulnerable people and visited vulnerable addresses.

"Education is key, and our officers have conducted over 200 visits to school, social care providers, health professionals and other important community groups. By providing information on what to look for we can help the community to spot the signs of cuckooing - where gangs target the most vulnerable individuals and use their homes to sell drugs from. As well giving advice on how to spot the signs of vulnerable young people and adults being used in dealing drugs.

"County lines is a priority for West Mercia police, we want to ensure the region becomes a no go area for travelling criminality. We will continue to pursue and prosecute those who bring drugs into our counties, commit violence and exploit vulnerable members of our communities."

The national picture

More than 500 suspected members of county lines drugs gangs have been arrested in a week across the country.

Between May 13 and 20 police forces across the UK carried out a crackdown co-ordinated by the National County Lines Coordination Centre, seizing £312,649 in cash and 46 weapons.

In the week-long operation:

  • 500 men and 86 women were arrested
  • 519 vulnerable adults and 364 children were safeguarded
  • 30 people were referred as potential victims of slavery or human trafficking
  • 46 weapons were seized, including four guns, swords, machetes, an axe, knives, samurai swords, and a crossbow
  • Drugs including cocaine worth £176,780, crack worth £36,550 and heroin worth £17,950 were seized

National Crime Agency (NCA) County Lines lead Nikki Holland said: "Tackling county lines and the misery it causes is a national law enforcement priority and these results demonstrate the power of a whole-system response to a complex problem that we're seeing in every area of the UK.

"We know that criminal networks use high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse to ensure compliance from the vulnerable people they employ to do the day-to-day drug supply activity."

Young people and vulnerable adults are "groomed" and forced into a life of crime by members of county lines drug gangs, that courier banned substances from urban centres into more rural areas, taking orders on phone lines.

Ms Holland added: "We are making progress in our fight against County Lines but we need the help of professionals working with people at risk of being involved in or exploited by County Lines.

"It's the nurses, teachers, social workers, GPs, and anyone who works with young or vulnerable people, that can really help to make a difference."

Signs that a young person may have fallen prey to a county lines gang are suddenly having new unaffordable belongings; going missing a lot; having friendships with older people or having unexplained injuries.

The National Crime Agency estimates there are about 2,000 county lines gangs in the UK, and every police force in England and Wales is affected by their activity.

The number of cases of modern slavery involving UK minors went from 676 in 2017 to 1,421 in 2018.

Iryna Pona, policy manager at the Children's Society, said: "It is good to see police are stepping up their fight against the horrors of county lines trafficking with enforcement operations like these.

"But everyone, including professionals, needs to know how to spot the signs that something is wrong and accept that these young people are not troublemakers, but vulnerable children who are being groomed and need help."

Anyone with suspicions that a property is being used to sell drugs from, or that a young and/ or vulnerable individual may be getting involved with county lines drug dealing is asked to contact their local police station or to ring 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 where the information can be given anonymously.