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How to stop County Lines in Norwich? Candidates have their say

PUBLISHED: 09:29 04 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:25 04 December 2019

Norfolk police raiding a property suspected of dealing drugs in Heathgate, Norwich as part of Operation Gravity. Picture: Archant

Norfolk police raiding a property suspected of dealing drugs in Heathgate, Norwich as part of Operation Gravity. Picture: Archant

Archant

So how do you solve a problem like County Lines? That was the question posed by editor David Powles to all of the Norwich North and South candidates in the forthcoming election. Here he analyses their responses.

PC Oliver Marson searches a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPC Oliver Marson searches a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Our city has a problem which needs to be fixed, that much is clear.

Two weeks ago I wrote of my concerns of the ongoing impact County Lines was having on our city.

Despite hundreds of arrests and big crackdowns on gangs operating in Norwich and beyond, still they come, dealers from large cities intent on spreading their misery here and making a fast buck.

The outcome of which is not only increased drug use and rising drug-related deaths, but a growing fear of escalating violence in certain parts of the city.

Police during an Operation Gravity drugs raid at a property on the Aylsham Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice during an Operation Gravity drugs raid at a property on the Aylsham Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Tellingly, not one of the ten candidates for the city's two constituencies argued against this being a key issue the city faces.

Dr Catherine Rowett, Green Party candidate for Norwich South, said: "The scale of the problem is now such, and drug dealing now so open, ordinary people in their daily life see the evidence of it and many across the city struggle with the health, welfare, educational and family crisis consequences."

Meanwhile, Karen Davis, Labour candidate for Norwich North, described County Lines as the 'scourge of the city', adding: "I have seen how local families have been devastated by drug dealing in their communities."

But why have we seen such a problem emerge and what can be done to stem the tide?

Inspector Nick Palin with a tent containing cannabis plants in the loft of a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYInspector Nick Palin with a tent containing cannabis plants in the loft of a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to finding a solution, much focus is placed on the police, their powers and their resources, some of which have been diminished in recent years due to budget cuts.

According to James Wright, Liberal Democrat candidate for Norwich South, the loss of officers on the beat has hit cities like Norwich hard and he would like to see a return to the days of community policing. He says his party would 'put visible officers back into local communities - two for each ward in our city'.

And Dave Thomas, Liberal Democrat candidate for Norwich North, added: "We need to give the police the tools they need to go for the route of the problem in the big cites and let them work with neighbouring forces to make cross county arrests and shut down these lines."

David Moreland, UKIP candidate for Norwich North, added: "I have seen men selling drugs on the streets of Norwich, but unfortunately due to the huge reduction in police officers on the street, nothing could be done.

"This issue will get worse unless our government addresses our borders control and illegal migrants issues. UKIP have promoted for a substantial period that substantial number of police are needed back on the street."

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But Chloe Smith, Conservative candidate for Norwich North, described fighting crime as 'one of her top priorities' adding: "The Conservatives will put 20,000 more police on our streets, and our share of that is already being recruited in Norfolk.

"Police will be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime. Anyone charged with knife possession will appear before magistrates within days not weeks. Those who use a knife as a weapon should go to prison."

There was a recognition from most of those quizzed that reducing drug use and drug-related crime would take much more than just tougher policing. It will need much work to get to the root of the problems.

Clive Lewis, Labour candidate for Norwich South, believes cuts to public services as a whole are to blame. He said: "Just look at the shameful litany of local failure: worst mental health services in the country, shameful levels of child poverty and soaring school exclusions. So much of the problem really is about the money.

"There are no cheap or simple solutions and unless government gets serious about tackling the multiple drivers of crime, disadvantage and ill health, politicians will still be puzzling questions like these for years to come."

Mr Wright shares similar views to his Labour rival and added: "When children as young as 12 are being exploited by drug gangs, the approach clearly needs to change. Cuts to youth services have made it easier for them to prey on young people.

"That is why in addition to extra funding for the police, the Liberal Democrats will provide a £500m ringfenced youth services fund to local authorities to repair the damage done to youth services and enable them to deliver a broader range of services, reach more young people and improve training for youth workers; helping keep children out of the grip of criminal gangs."

Sandy Gilchrist, Brexit Party candidate for Norwich South, added: "We need to put real money into social welfare, health as well as police services to tackle these related problems. We need to work with the community and professionals to put in place appropriate measures."

Several candidates also focused on mental health and the impact failing services in Norfolk might be having on vulnerable communities. If people suffer from poor mental health they are more likely to fall into a drug habit and those with a drug habit are more likely to suffer a mental health problem.

Karen Davis added: "County Lines is a public health issue and should be treated as such. We need all agencies to be properly funded - cuts to youth services, mental health services and drug and addiction services.

"Unless we close the inequality gap, we are going to continue to swim against the tide."

Dr Mike Spencer, the Conservative candidate for Norwich South, has first hand experience of this, explaining: "As someone who has worked in drug and alcohol services, I understand how drug problems and mental health problems are interrelated and how physical, psychological and social problems are linked together.

"I firmly believe that by fixing mental health we start to tackle the drug problems and the physical and social problems interlinked with it."

Dr Rowett said: "The first thing is to address the cause of the hopelessness of young people's lives. Secondly we would treat the use of drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem. That does not mean that we would stop trying to address it, but rather it would be dealt with in the way that alcohol abuse is treated. It ruins lives, and its victims need help not punishment."

According to Adrian Holmes, Green Party candidate for Norwich North, some of the answers lay within the communities themselves. He said: "I'm a firm believer in developing active residents associations where people can meet with their local police and talk in confidence about the problems they are experiencing. Of course this needs backing up with the right resources. I want to see national government investing in education and treatment of problematic drug use as a health issue, not a crime, building on the successful approaches pioneered in other countries."

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