AVON and Somerset Police have linked up with officers from the Met in a bid to bust a drug supply line to Taunton.

The two forces have collaborated non a long-term investigation into a 'county line' believed to be active in the county town.

The link up led to arrest warrants being executed in Wembley and Taunton last Thursday (October 10).

A total of six people were arrested from addresses in London and Taunton, five of whom have since been charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and human trafficking.

They were remanded in custody to appear in court the following day and have now been bailed.

The operation was part of a national, co-ordinated week of action to tackle county lines drug dealing and the associated exploitation of vulnerable people.

The initiative, led by the National County Lines Co-Ordination Centre, saw Avon and Somerset Police partnered with local authorities, key service providers and other police forces to ensure there was a joined up approach to sharing information and resources to dismantle county lines networks which cross police force borders.

‘County lines’ is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs out of bigger cities into one or more smaller towns in the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of ‘deal lines’. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money, and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

During the week, Avon and Somerset Police visited more than 100 properties in partnership with housing providers and support workers which were thought to have either previously been cuckooed or were believed to be at risk of being cuckooed in the future. ‘Cuckooing’ is the term used for when drug dealers use violence, exploitation and intimidation to take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for drug dealing.

During the visits officers spoke to 69 adults considered vulnerable and potentially at risk of being exploited by dealers and signposted them to appropriate support.

Officers arrested 26 people for a range of offences including drugs supply, possession of weapons and theft. They seized weapons including a machete, a hammer and a knife, a large amount of suspected Class A drugs and just under £25,000 in cash, as well as two vehicles and 13 mobile phones.

Officers also used the week to engage with young people and local communities, to educate and raise awareness of the issues surrounding county lines.

They visited seven schools across the force area and a pupil referral unit in Bridgwater, engaging with more than 2,000 pupils.

The talks centred on the grooming and exploitation of young people and aim to help local communities and concerned professionals to understand how to spot the signs that a young person may be being groomed.

Police also sent hundreds of text messages to suspected drug users and deal lines believed to be operating in the force area, directing 250 drug users to support agencies while also making dealers aware that they know what they were using the phone number for.

In response, officers received a number of calls requesting help or providing, including a call from the family of a potential drugs runner from London believed to be being used to sell drugs from London.

Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Paterson, force lead for county lines said: "Last week’s operation shows how much can be achieved when different police forces work in partnership across borders as well as alongside local authorities, schools, communities and other professionals who have an interest in keeping vulnerable people safe.

“Our intelligence gathering and operational tactics are improving all the time and the national co-ordination really helps us to focus our resources where they are most needed and can do the most good.

“These drugs gangs are ruthless and don’t care who they exploit or hurt. They make false promises to vulnerable people about the money, status and safety that working for them will provide.

"Increasingly, the young people we come into contact with through our operations are treated as victims and where possible we utilise modern slavery legislation as well as drugs laws to prosecute those at the top of the chains.”

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “We need to be doing everything we can to disrupt county lines and stop those who want to exploit the most vulnerable for their own benefit.

"We need to ensure that everyone recognises the signs of drug activity and exploitation of vulnerable people and work together to stop this crime destroying people’s lives.”