UP TO 37 gangs could be selling crack cocaine and heroin in Swindon, detectives say.

According to analysis by the National Crime Agency, the town has one of the highest rates in the country of county lines gangs passing through as they travel from London, Birmingham and other major cities to sell class A drugs in smaller towns.

The revelations came as police raided nine houses and flats across Swindon - including a council house on Oxford Street - in a purge of the gangs selling hard drugs in the town. Five men, two boys and two women were arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs.

Det Insp Paul Franklin, head of Wiltshire Police’s dedicated crime team, said: “It’s an abusive thing. People are used and abused to make money.”

And while the life of the young runners selling crack cocaine on street corners is far from the Gucci-rich world of rap music videos, some of the drugs lines operating in Swindon will make between £1,000 and £3,000 a day.

It’s unlikely to end soon. Mr Franklin said: “As long as we’ve got a cohort of users, these people are going to make money.”

He added: "The gangs who exploit children and vulnerable adults as part of these drug networks don't care about the human cost of their dealing.

"They have no regard for those who are often forced to carry out their dirty work to push drugs. They don't care about the impact in the wider community with the associated increased violence, anti-social behaviour and other drug related offences in local neighbourhoods which does affect innocent people.

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Armed police on Oxford Street

"The message we are sending to out of town criminal gangs is that you are not welcome here, we are not a soft touch and we won't tolerate any drug dealing and the violence which comes with it. That's in Swindon or the wider county of Wiltshire."

Out-of-town drugs gangs have long plagued smaller cities and towns. But the phenomenon of County Lines – the name given to enterprising gangsters establishing pop-up phone lines in places like Swindon to sell crack cocaine and heroin – has boomed. The NCA estimates there were as many 1,000 branded County Lines in 2018, each with snappy names like “Lucky” and “Daz” – often the nickname of the man that controls them.

The dealers are known for cuckooing the homes of drug addicts, using a mixture of violent threats and the offer of cheap drugs to secure a base from which to sell drugs and access to the vulnerable addict’s contacts book. Often, lieutenants will press gang younger adults and children into service as runners.

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PCSOs knocked doors after the raid on Oxford Street

In Swindon, police have noticed the rise of so-called local lines, home-grown gangs that ape the methods employed by the big city networks. This summer, half a dozen raids have attempted to round up the leaders of such a gang police believe operates in Eldene.

Wiltshire police bosses have called for help from government to help them take on the drug gangs.

At the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged £20m to help police forces fight county lines.

The investment would establish a dedicated police unit with a more visible presence at train stations, an expansion of a National Crime Agency unit sharing intelligence between forces, more operations aimed at clawing back the proceeds of drug dealing, and more support for victims of the gangs.

But Angus Macpherson, police and crime commissioner, said more of the money needed to be invested in places like Wiltshire that are being targeted by the county lines networks.

“We are doing as much as we can and in fact I think we are doing more than some areas,” he said.

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The home on Oxford Street raided by police

“But it is a national problem and has been identified by the NCA, Swindon is a place where we have more county lines passing through than any other part of the country.

“All the money that’s coming from government has been given to the places where county lines start.

“Regrettably, Wiltshire is one of the worst funded forces in the country. I’m very, very restricted in how much money I am able to give away to victims’ organisations.”

Welcoming the raid on a council house in Oxford Street, Coun Cathy Martyn of Swindon Borough Council, said: “We work closely with the police to ensure vulnerable people are not exploited by criminals. We are proactive in issuing Closure Orders on properties where appropriate and we provide close personal support to those who have been targeted.

“We have not received any reports of anti-social behaviour from residents in the Railway Village but we will follow them up, in partnership with the police, if we do. Our first priority is to keep people safe and we are not afraid of taking robust action in pursuit of this aim."