News article

Chief Constable visiting Newton Abbot to talk about drugs and the exploitation of vulnerable people

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Day long visit to the town

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer will be out and about in Newton Abbot tomorrow [4 July] to talk about drug-related crime and the impact on vulnerable people in local communities.

Mr Sawyer will be meeting partner agencies, police staff and vulnerable adults to discuss the challenges of tackling drug supply and the associated exploitation of vulnerable adults and young people by dealers, particularly County Lines’ gangs.

County Lines is the term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to other parts of the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines. They exploit vulnerable adults and children in order to move and store drugs and money, using coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

Dealers commonly use ‘cuckooing’, where they target vulnerable individuals and take over their home as a base to operate a drug supply network.

As part of his visit, Mr Sawyer will be visiting Newton Abbot police station to meet with officers and staff who are proactively targeting such gangs through pre-planned operations, vehicle stop checks, warrants and long-term investigations.

Tackling drugs and associated serious organised crime networks remains a key priority for the Force. During a week of national action against County Lines in May, 19 people were arrested in Devon and Cornwall and more than £81,000 worth of suspected drugs were seized. Thirty-five vulnerable adults and children, plus 49 suspected ‘cuckooed’ addresses were visited.

Mr Sawyer said: “There are some excellent examples of work being undertaken to disrupt the activity of dealers and to safeguard vulnerable adults and young people being exposed to physical and mental abuse from these organised networks.

“Exploitation is a complex form of abuse in which someone is coerced into actions for the benefit of others. It takes many forms and these problems are often interconnected, for example, individuals can be groomed into gangs, forced to sell and take drugs, or be a victim of modern slavery.

“There are many pathways to vulnerability, ranging from adverse childhood experiences, financial pressure or addictions through to disabilities. Some people have vulnerable times in their lives and find themselves being further exploited.

“The problem is often hidden. Through trust people can unknowingly end up in a sinister situation. They feel foolish so don’t ask for help and sometimes they can’t see that they have become a victim. Once trapped they can easily become unwilling perpetrators of the same abuse to others. My plea is ‘please do not be afraid – come forward and talk to us. If we know about it, we or our partners can help you.’

“If anyone in the community has any information about suspected drug-related activity or if you have concerns about a member of your community, particularly a vulnerable person who is potentially being exploited, please contact the police via 101 or In an emergency please call 999. We can only act if we have the information.”

Mr Sawyer will head to Teignbridge District Council headquarters at Forde House in Newton Abbot tomorrow afternoon to sit down with members of the South Devon Community Safety Partnership for the South Devon Exploitation Forum. The forum seeks to gain an understanding of exploitation in the area, tackle criminality and identify the signs and work with people who are vulnerable or have been coerced.

Mr Sawyer said: “Drugs are not a standalone problem or crime, with drugs often comes violence, fear and other crime. We need to tackle the complexities of drugs and the impact on our communities not only to make them safer today but also to make them resilient.

“This issue cannot sit with one single agency. It requires multiple partners working together to find short, medium and long term solutions. The public can also play a vital role – they are our eyes and ears in communities and can help us to tackle this issue.

“I am looking forward to meeting those who are dealing with this issue in person to better understand the challenges they face and what more can be done by police and partners to tackle them.

“I wish to reassure the public that we and our partners are committed to tackling serious and organised crime to both keep vulnerable people safe from risk of serious harm and to take drugs off our streets at every opportunity.

“The problem with drugs is not unique to our area but we are a net importer of drugs-related crime. The message is clear - if you are a drug user and reach out for help through health services or even police, it will be given.

“If however, you knowingly trade in drugs or are encountered as a user in possession of drugs, then you will be subject to investigation and potentially conviction. If you come to Devon and Cornwall with the intention of producing and dealing drugs on our streets, you will encounter a very hostile enforcement environment and hopefully a zero tolerance approach within our communities.”

If you have any information please contact Devon and Cornwall Police via or by phone on 101.

To find out more information about County Lines please visit:



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