SHOUTS of “police, police” was hardly the wake-up call that dozing residents in Eldene needed last Friday.

But it was the sound that heralded the crash of scarlet battering rams against three doors at homes across the east Swindon community as police conducted a series of dawn raids.

Around two dozen police officers took part in the 5am swoop, seizing thousands of pounds in cash, heroin and crack cocaine with a street value of as much as £2,000 and a small array of knives and other weapons. Two young men, aged 16 and 20, were arrested on drugs charges.

While the raids may have proven an interesting diversion for the homeowners watching the riot vans pull up outside their neighbours’ terraces, Operation Amnion was curious too for what it says about drugs supply in Swindon.

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Rise of County Lines

County Lines is the phrase on the lips of politicians and police officers across the country. It describes the process by which drug dealers based in larger cities, such as London and Birmingham, muscle in on the supply of class A drugs like heroin and crack cocaine in smaller towns and cities.

The National Crime Agency, the government quango responsible for tackling organised crime, estimates the number of “lines” – the name given to the drug ordering phone hotlines controlled by the gangs – has increased from 720 to over 2,000 in just two years.

In February, the NCA coordinated a nationwide purge of County Lines gangs in January. Over seven days £200,000 cash was seized, drugs impounded and 40 children and adults identified as possible victims of human trafficking – ordered by gang leaders to travel across the country to sell drugs.

In Swindon, detectives have brought countless cases to court in a bid to smash gang after gang. Most recently, London dealer Kelmoy Brown – known to Swindon addicts only by his nickname Ace – was jailed for 12 years after admitting a frenzied stab attack on the partner of one of his runners.

County Lines remains a clear priority for Wiltshire Police’s new assistant chief constable, Mark Cooper. The former detective, whose Cambridge University masters degree research looked at organised crime in the south west, told the Adver: “Using young people in the supply of drugs and also targeting the vulnerable is definitely more prevalent. It’s the preferred method of offending and highly lucrative, so it is a real focus for us.”

'Local line' gangs

Drug markets have long been controlled by a mixture of locals and out-of-town dealers. However, detectives have seen the growth in what some officers have labelled local lines: home-grown gangs aping the methods used by the County Lines networks.

One such example is the Eldene gang targeted in Friday’s raid. The group, suspected of being controlled by young men in their teens and early 20s, are said to use younger teens as street runners. They are suspected of carrying weapons and have been linked to other anti-social behaviour in the area.

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Weapons seized in the Eldene raids

Insp David Tippetts of South Swindon Police, who coordinated the raids, said: “There have always been local supply networks. All they’re doing is copying the county lines business model.

“I would suggest the older people running this particular line may have been runners for a county line at some point, which is how they’ve learned how to set up.

“The weapons are there primarily to protect themselves because they’re vulnerable to being robbed by other users or networks. There can be rivalry between different networks.”

Last year, former Swindon police inspector Dave Hobman was tasked by police chiefs to look into problems around youth violence in the town.

He told the Adver: “This is not just county lines. Some of this exploitation is from what might be called local lines, Swindon people getting children and young people to run drugs.

“We’ve seen an increase in violence. We’re always concerned about weapons, knife crime and the anti-social behaviour going around these groups forming.”

Addicts spend £46 a day on habit

Crack and heroin users spend on average £46 a day on their habit, police say.

Det Sgt Georgina Green, one of the Gablecross detectives responsible for policing the trade in Swindon, says many addicts will turn to thieving or prostitution to fund their habit.

In comments revealed in court papers following one recent application by police to shut a Walcot crack den, Ms Green said: “This is an expensive habit to fund when unemployed and the only source of income is from benefits.

“Many drug users do not travel far to buy their drugs and will purchase locally for ease. This means that acquisitive crime will also be committed locally, with an increase in offences such as burglary, theft, robberies and shoplifting.

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Heroin is commonly injected or smoked Picture: PA

“This crime has a significant impact on victims in the local community with both local residents and businesses suffering as a direct result.

“In addition to acquisitive crime, prostitution is a common offence committed to fund drug users’ habits, consequently causing a rise in anti-social behaviour, which is visible to local residents at all times of the day.”

The most recent estimates published by Public Health England suggest there could be as many as 1,075 people in Swindon addicted to crack cocaine or heroin.

This year, a PHE report found crack was being sold for “pocket money prices”, with addicts able to buy a rock of the drug for £5. Runners were able to deliver quicker than pizza takeaways.

How do the drugs gangs work?

From the producers to the Swindon runners, the drugs supply chain is made up of a number of different levels.

At the very bottom are the runners: those sent out to actually make transactions on behalf of a street dealer. They are often children, either local to the area or trafficked from the gang’s home city, or local drug addicts who are paid for their trouble in the form of free drugs.

Next in the pecking order are the street dealers. They operate in very localised areas, splitting drugs into small weights and selling wraps of cocaine or heroin for £10 each.

The street dealers are sold their drugs by a local supplier. In a County Line, this might be the London dealer also responsible for taking calls from drug addicts in Swindon and ordering his town-based street dealers and runners to make the sale.

There could be several levels among street dealers, each taking a bigger profit. They are supplied by a regional distributor who in turn buys his drugs from a national distributor. According to reports, much of the UK cocaine £5bn-a-year trade is controlled at the national-level by Albanian crime gangs. The majority of the heroin taken in this country is trafficked from Afghanistan as a brown powder.

The drugs trade is characterised by violence, with dealers and addicts linked to a number of recent stabbings in Swindon. Dedicated Crime Team detective Det Sgt Georgina Green said: "In my experience, many knife related incidents and assaults are drug related and this has increased dramatically in the last five years."