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Block pay as you go phones to beat county lines drug dealers, police chief urges

A police chief today called on telecoms giants to shut down county lines drug dealers’ unregistered pay-as-you-go phones, capable of sending 500 texts to customers in seconds.

Detective Superintendent Gareth Williams says the £1 billion-a-year trade relies on unregistered handsets bought in cash with no questions asked. The mobiles are used to broadcast deals to large groups of buyers.

He has spoken to MPs about a new law similar to the one that significantly reduced metal theft when it became illegal to trade scrap for cash in 2013.

Mr Williams, who leads British Transport Police’s national crackdown on county lines gangs, told the Standard: “I doubt there’s something equally as simplistic as mobile companies helping us with this. Not many people send 500 texts in one go. So why have sims and phones got that capability?

“Mobile companies could stop people buying phones without giving personal details and not let them pay in cash.

“There are privacy arguments, I accept that, but the fact that people can go in a shop and buy 20 phones for £150 is highly unhelpful for us.

“We’ve caught youngsters with £65,000 in illicit cash. You can imagine what those sitting at higher tiers in the organisation are churning.”

County lines is the movement of drugs by gangs from cities into smaller towns, often exploiting children or vulnerable adults. Dealers from London, Birmingham and Liverpool often courier supplies to Brighton, Norwich, Cambridge and north and mid Wales.

Transport police have dozens of officers carrying out operations at train stations and on rail and Tube routes across England, Wales and Scotland.

County line operations have led to spikes in youth violence as gangs use knives and firearms to protect trade. Of 725 arrests, the youngest was just 13.

Mobile UK, the industry body for UK’s mobile operators, said: “While compulsory ID appears a simple solution, maintaining an up-to-date register would be hard to enforce, would not be fool-proof and could have severe unintended consequences for those who really need access to a mobile phone.”

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