“We’ve already rolled up about 1,500 county lines gangs”
That’s what Boris Johnson claimed on Sky News this week.
He said the government was “ramping up” its campaign against “the county lines networks that are preying on [drug] users.”
County lines gangs are groups that move illegal drugs from one part of the country (usually large cities) into other areas (often smaller towns) using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines.”
But despite what the Prime Minister claimed, the government has not closed down 1,500 such gangs. The figure in fact refers to the quantity of deal line phone numbers that have been shut down.
Deal lines are “essential to run[ing] a county line,” says the National County Lines Coordination Centre in its latest strategic assessment document. “The county line deal phone number is distributed to drug users in order to purchase drugs,” it explains.
But, as the same document points out, “county line networks will ‘chop and change’ county line deal phone numbers, sometimes overnight, due to contact with police or moving to a new location to avoid the threat of violence from rival networks.”
So while closing down an individual phone number can help to disrupt the gang’s activities, it is not the same as “rolling up” the gang itself, to use the Prime Minister’s words.
Boris Johnson said: “We’ve already rolled up about 1,500 county lines gangs.”
But this is incorrect. The 1,500 figure refers to the number of individual phone numbers used by gangs that have been shut down – not the number of gangs.
Downing Street did not provide a comment.