Drug dealers are becoming easier to spot and the cost of their product is spiralling as the trade suffers during the lockdown.

One police officer likened picking up drug dealers to “shooting fish in a barrel”.

But the detective in charge of Wiltshire’s drugs squads warned that the gangsters’ tactics were changing, hinting that the dealers were staying at home and getting customers to come to them.

Det Insp Paul Franklin of the dedicated crime team said: “Despite the unsettling times we are experiencing at the moment, we continue to tackle drug activity within the county. We have noticed that class A drugs are currently being supplied at an increased cost and there is a decrease in supply both here and on the continent.

“With less foot traffic within our towns and cities, it does make it easier to identify those who we believe are dealing drugs in our area. However, county lines are resilient and quick to change tactics, so we still need members of the public to remain vigilant while at home – if you see neighbours having multiple callers during a short period of time, please call us and report this suspicious activity. Your neighbours could be vulnerable to cuckooing through ill health, mental health or just isolated.”

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Drugs picked up by police in Broadgreen over the weekend Picture: SWINDON POLICE

Wholesale prices for cocaine in particular has spiralled as travel bans make it harder to smuggle it between borders country.

One London-based dealer last week estimated the cost of a kilo of the white powder had increased from around £36,000 to £40,000 or more. But he told Sky News trade had been busier than usual during the lockdown.

Like any business, rising costs for the dealers are likely to be passed onto the addicts. The Adver understands that, at the moment, the street price of class A drugs like heroin and crack cocaine has largely the same – with deals like three wraps for £25 still on offer.

But one detective said officers were starting to see underweight deals – meaning addicts were having to spend . And, while Wiltshire Police said it had no data to show that drugs were being diluted with cutting agents, concerns are likely to grow as the lockdown continues and it becomes harder for the dealers to get their hands on the raw product. Swindon Borough Council, which commissions charity Turning Point to provide drug rehabilitation services, said they were not aware drugs supply had been affected by the pandemic.

One consequence of the lockdown has been a huge fall in acquisitive crimes like shoplifting. The cause is believed to be twofold: stronger security on the shops that remain open and support from the council finding the homeless accommodation.

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Swindon Crown Court

This time last month shoplifting offences would have formed the bulk of the work of the magistrates’ court. But in the last week only one shop thief has come before the justices charged with a recent set of thefts. Paul Simpkins, 49, admitted stealing from Tesco and B&M in Chippenham and was bailed to be assessed for a drug rehabilitation order. His lawyer said the man was a heroin and crack addict who took “whatever he could get his hands on”.

New guidance published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Crown Prosecution Service earlier this month said lower value thefts, which includes the vast majority of shoplifting cases, were a low priority during the coronavirus crisis. Investigations into serious fraudsters and major serious organised crime gangs were also deemed to be a low priority. Drugs supply cases remain a high priority for the CPS.

The work of police station solicitors may have fallen dramatically, but it’s not to say that crime has disappeared. Over the weekend a suspected dealer was stopped in Broadgreen with £5,000 in cash and 100 deals-worth of cannabis. Last week, a Birmingham man was arrested in Calne after detectives believed he was cuckooing a home. He was held for 52 hours at Melksham police station as officers feared he had plugged heroin and crack in his bottom.

Those who are arrested are, generally, being bailed or released under investigation, Swindon solicitors say.

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Paul Franklin of Wiltshire Police Picture: TREVOR PORTER

Det Insp Franklin pledged to keep up pressure on the gangs: “We will continue to target those who are dealing within Wiltshire and Swindon, as well as those travelling into our county to deal drugs, and the dedicated crime team is still actively disrupting any county or local drugs lines.

“We are fully aware that some people may see the current situation as an opportunity to make more money and further exploit the vulnerable due to there being less active dealers in the area. This will not be tolerated and we will do all that we can to target these individuals.”