Gangs have devised a new way to make money in London’s lucrative drug trade by launching a new upmarket form of cocaine designed to hook wealthy users.
“Calli” is cocaine that is a much higher-purity, and at £100 a gram ($ AU186), is being sold for much more than the usual £40-£50 pounds a gram users pay for the regular strength version of the drug.
The drug gangs are marketing Calli at the British elite as a lifestyle choice rather than addiction, in a desperate attempt to boost profits by gaining new users and getting them to spend more.
Cocaine is already been marketed as organic or “ethically grown” on the dark web – but the latest development is “significant”, Vince O’Brien, the head of drug operations at the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
The NCA is the British equivalent to the FBI. The agency released its annual threat assessment on Tuesday, which revealed the scourge of county lines tactics had spread to almost half the police forces in England and Wales.
County lines is a form of criminal exploitation when gangs and organised crime networks exploit children to sell drugs into new areas, usually away from their city bases. Often these children are made to travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone “lines” to supply drugs.
Police across the UK have been trying to crush the gangs because of the havoc they are bringing to the communities targeted, by the illegal activity the drug trade breeds and also as drug gangs fight each other in turf wars.
CHILDREN AS YOUNG AS 12 THE TARGET
Children as young as 12 are being put in danger by gangs who are taking advantage of how vulnerable they are. Often the targets are kids who have been excluded from school, or who live in housing commission areas, or children who are in care of social services.
There have been alarming reports that gangs lurk at the gates of schools known to have high rates of children suspended from ordinary classes, and lure them with the offer of mobile phones, clothes and cash.
Social media is another popular method, with Snapchat a popular tool for gangs trying to hook young users in.
Another tactic is to threaten the child, or their family. Once they are in the grip of the gang it is difficult to get out as they feel trapped and manipulated into doing whatever the gangs want.
The exact number of children in the grip of the county lines gang isn’t known. According to the Children’s Commissioner there could be at least 46,000 children in England who are involved in gang activity – with 4000 teenagers in London alone being exploited.
Tragically the young people exploited through county lines can often be seen by professionals as criminals.
However they become trapped in county lines, the young people involved feel as if they have no choice but to continue doing what the gangs want.
They are forced to sell drugs to local users and usually travel alone or in small groups on trains and buses – the gangs hope they will fly under the radar of police this way.
ORGANISED CRIMINALS ‘TWICE SIZE OF BRITISH ARMY’
The director general of the NCA laid bare the challenge her officers were facing when she launched the annual national assessment at Parliament on Tuesday.
One of the most startling facts she told MPs was there were at least 181,000 people linked to serious and organised crime in the UK, which is twice the size of the British army.
Of those, 144,000 people in the UK “registered on the most harmful child sex abuse … dark web sites,” the NCA said, insisting its estimates were conservative and not intended to alarm politicians, or the public.
“Serious and organised crime in the UK is chronic and corrosive; its scale is truly staggering. It kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined. Serious and organised crime affects more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat,” Ms Owens said.
She is lobbying the government for billions a year more in funding.
“We need significant further investment to keep pace with the growing scale and complexity. Some will say we cannot afford to provide more investment, but I say we cannot afford not to.”
Referring specifically to county lines, The NCA said some organised crime groups are made up purely of children and young people “adopting businesslike operating models rather than relying on identity or postcode”.
WE CAN’T BEAT THEM WITH ARRESTS
Mr O’Brien, the head of NCA drug operations, conceded this week police would not be able to stop the spread of cocaine and other illegal drugs like heroin by just arresting people.
In a candid interview with T he Guardian, Mr O’Brien said the war on drugs would not be beaten while people still desired them in huge numbers.
“While there is a user base willing to spend millions and millions of pounds on drugs, which represent millions and millions of pounds worth of profit, then we will have an issue with illicit drugs in this country,” he said.
“We can’t arrest our way out of that anymore than we can arrest our way out of serious violence. We need to tackle the drivers behind it.”
The UK is currently experiencing a crime wave, especially in London, with stabbings and murders a regular occurrence.
“While we have high levels of production and we have high levels of demand we will continue to have the resilient market we have at the moment. And we need to tackle both of those more effectively,” Mr O’Brien said.
Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, told a London radio show she thought drug users had “blood on their hands” as it was fuelling the knife crime epidemic.
“I think anybody who is not seriously mentally ill, seriously addicted, who is seeking ‘recreational’ drugs, particularly class A drugs, yes, I think that is a good way to put it, I do.”