Five people, including a 15-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy, have been charged and a further two arrested on suspicion of drug offences after a major operation by Bedfordshire Police.
Two men aged 20 and 19, two boys aged 17 and 16, and a 15-year-old girl have all been charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs as a result of the operation.
These five were arrested as part of an operation on Monday.
A 17-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl, were also arrested today on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and are currently in police custody
The force’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) carried out warrants and searches at nine addresses across Bedford, Rushden and Milton Keynes.
It was part of an investigation into a suspected drugs line.
£1,400 in cash, a samurai sword, crossbow, knives, baseball bats, a small amount of cannabis and a number of mobile phones.
All but one of the seven people arrested are from the Bedford area.
The children and young people subject to police action are set to be among the first to work with projects funded by Bedfordshire’s new Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), which aims to tackle the root causes of serious violence.
This work will be led by the Bedfordshire Youth Offending Service (YOS).
A mental health nurse from the YOS assisted throughout both stages of enforcement, while children’s services have also been involved in the operation.
Bedfordshire Police also secured a Drug Dealing Telecommunications Restriction Order today (Thursday) on a mobile phone suspected of coordinating the activity for the drugs line.
This order forced the phone network to take the number out of service.
Police will be sending a text message to the contacts on this mobile phone, telling them the line has been closed due to its links to suspected drug dealing and signposting people to support services.
Bedfordshire Police’s Deputy Chief Constable, Trevor Rodenhurst, who is also the deputy national lead for serious and organised crime, said: “A greater awareness of county lines has shone a light on the violence and exploitation inherent in this industry; ultimately, the root cause of all of this is the supply of drugs.
“The nature of drug dealing is changing and, sadly, we are seeing younger people now getting involved.
“There are often wider factors at play, which is why I am so glad we are working with partners such as the VERU and the youth offending team to come up with holistic solutions to this issue.
“However, while we will offer support, young people should be under no illusion about the seriousness of getting involved in drug dealing and associated criminality which brings so much misery to our communities.
“We will continue to target those involved in organised crime and are determined to take those involved at the upper echelons of supply networks off the streets.”
Head of Bedfordshire’s VERU, Kimberley Lamb, said: “Every day, vulnerable young people in our towns and villages are at risk of being criminally exploited.
“As a VERU team we will ensure that we provide partnership support to the established services out there already doing great work with the young people most at risk.
“Our aim is to build a network of statutory agencies, charities and grassroots community groups to get a real grip on this issue and protect our children and young people across the county from falling victim to predatory gangs.”
Councillor James Valentine, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Service and Education at Bedford Borough Council, said: “Bedfordshire Youth Offending Service has worked to develop a vision for a youth justice system that sees children as children, treats them fairly, safeguards their needs and help them to build on their own strengths so they can make a constructive contribution to society.
“We aim to prevent offending and create safer communities with fewer victims. We have focused our efforts on a handful of priority areas, such as serious youth violence and improving our offer including intervention and prevention.
“Our cooperation with Bedfordshire Police is to protect not just the young people but also the community and ensure that we have enough information to provide a bespoke package of support to these young people to help them live crime free lives.
“I am proud of the work the whole YOS team have done to support this operation.”