Our community remains safe but action on drug crime is needed, experts say

Dozens of professionals from different agencies in Worthing and Adur attended
Dozens of professionals from different agencies in Worthing and Adur attended

Although one of the safest areas in the country, the Adur and Worthing community needs to open its eyes to the threat of county lines drug dealing, a special meeting heard today.

Experts heard how our area is not immune to callous crime tactics like using children to sell drugs.

Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell spoke about how police are dealing with drug crime in the area

Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell spoke about how police are dealing with drug crime in the area

Mary D’Arcy, director of communities for the council, said: “Adur and Worthing do remain some of the safest places to live in the UK, so we do not want to frighten you.

“However we cannot pretend we are immune to rising national trends:

“Young people are involved in organised drug supply chains,

“Vulnerable adults risk losing their homes as they have been taken over by drug dealers,

I would like to say that we have actually come a really long way.

Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell, District Commander

“Issues of grooming and sexual exploitation do exist in Adur and Worthing.”

In previous years many of these issues were associated just with inner cities, she said, but are now in our area.

Dozens of experts from a range of agencies attended today’s Behind Closed Doors conference at the Assembly Hall in Worthing.

Hosted by Adur and Worthing Safer Communities Partnership, the annual event focusses on safeguarding and community safety.

The tone of the event was about dealing with issues early in their development, before they can take a hold in Adur and Worthing.

Mark Pearson, retired policeman and now chief executive of not-for-profit organisation Excelsior Safeguarding, told guests how important it was to work together.

“To deal with the complexity of gangs we have to react by working more effectively together.

“About three yeas ago we used to call them urban street gangs, but [now] they are organised street gangs using organised crime tactics.”

The day centred around the threat of ‘county lines’ drug dealing, where organised crime gangs distribute drugs over a large area away from their base.

Coastal towns, like Worthing, all over the country are feeling the effects of county lines, the conference heard.

While he has not worked extensively in Adur and Worthing, Mr Pearson spoke to the group about county lines in general.

Mr Pearson added: “County lines is the main drugs route in from London.

“Gangs take over the address of a vulnerable adult. They will target adults with physical disabilities, those that are mentally ill and drug users.

“They will then continue their distributing using a number of local drug dealers.

“It is basically like a cuckoo taking over the nest.”

For that reason, the practice is known as ‘cuckooing’.

Another of the hallmarks of county lines dealing is the use of children.

These children are known in the drug trade as ‘tinys’ or ‘clean skins’, because they have no criminal record, he said.

“The gangs have managed to infiltrate all levels of education,” Mr Pearson added.

So what should parents be on the lookout for?

Sophie Whitehouse, community wellbeing manager, said things like unexplained gifts, a change friendship groups, truancy and hanging out with older kids can be signs.

Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell, district commander for Worthing and Horsham, also came to listen to the speakers.

He told the Herald: “The key thing today is this is part of our ongoing work that we are doing through our serious organised crime group.

“Our sole priority through that group is to target county lines dealing and cuckooing.

“This is part of that process rather than the start of that process.

“I would like to say that we have actually come a really long way.

“We have seen anecdotally a reduction in that level of drug-related violence.

“I think we are not getting the serious assaults, GBH stabbings on a day-to-day basis like we were having last year.”

What is your perception of drug crime in Adur and Worthing?

Email your views to michael.drummond@jpress.co.uk