So-called ‘county lines’ drug dealing networks, in which organised gangs groom and exploit vulnerable people, including children, to engage in the drug trade, are an appalling blight on society. As one case showed, however, the civil courts are bolstering the efforts of the police and local authorities to tackle the issue.
The case concerned a 21-year-old man who was believed to be a kingpin in a county lines operation affecting a local authority’s area. Local police had, in less than a year, received 50 intelligence reports concerning his activities. In those circumstances, the council obtained an antisocial behaviour injunction (ASBI) against him. He was, amongst other things, banned from entering the council’s area, save to make escorted visits to his solicitor or to attend court hearings.
He was subsequently arrested, not for the first time, in the council’s area, where he had been present for some time. The council’s response was to apply to a civil judge to have him committed to prison for breaching the ASBI, which had been imposed under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. He admitted that his breach of the ASBI amounted to contempt of court.
Ruling on the matter, the judge emphasised that county lines networks impact on the most vulnerable members of society, including children as young as 10 or 11. They are associated with serious violence, particularly knife violence, and had resulted in the death from drug ingestion of at least one young person in the council’s area.
The judge acknowledged the man’s admission of contempt and that his record of previous convictions was relatively light. He had mental health difficulties and had never been charged with a criminal offence in the council’s area. He had, however, shown no regard for the ASBI and the threshold for the imposition of a custodial penalty was easily passed. He was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment.
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