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Merseyside Police: Project Medusa’s continuing success in targeting county lines drug dealing

4 weeks ago

Merseyside Police: Project Medusa’s continuing success in targeting county lines drug dealing
Project Medusa enforcement activity1

Project Medusa, a specialised initiative targeting county lines drug dealing and exploitation, has achieved remarkable success over the past year, sentencing criminals to a total of 440 years in prison.

Launched in 2019, by Merseyside Police, Project Medusa is dedicated to proactively addressing county lines drug dealing and the criminal exploitation of young people and vulnerable adults.

The project employs both covert and overt tactics to intercept weapons, drugs, and illicit cash, as well as to identify and protect individuals exploited by county lines gangs.

Project Medusa officers provide the daily force response to county lines, using covert and overt tactics to intercept weapons, drugs, and illicit cash, and identify vulnerable individuals exploited by county lines gangs.

Between April 2023 and March 2024, officers closed 484 ‘lines’ – this refers to the phone lines that criminals use to advertise and sell drugs, commonly referred to as a graft phone.

Project Medusa enforcement activity. Credit: Merseyside Police
Project Medusa enforcement activity. Credit: Merseyside Police

Officers have also seized nearly one million pounds in cash and 143 kg of Class A, Class B and Class C drugs.    

The hard work of this dedicated team is not only impacting county lines within Merseyside, but also in other parts of the UK. 25 joint operations with seven forces including Devon and Cornwall, Lancashire, North Wales and West Mercia has helped disrupt serious organised crime and put violent criminals behind bars.  

Dedicated officers continue to work tirelessly to compile covert intelligence and disrupt those involved in county lines – resulting in 252 convictions with sentences totalling 440 years in the last year.

In December 2023, Irakli Balatayev was jailed for seven years four months for drug supply and modern-day slavery offences. Under Operation Toxic, officers from Merseyside Police carried out an investigation between January and February 2022 into county lines drug dealing in the Leamington Spa area, where it was discovered that Balatayev was using a 15-year-old boy from Wirral to deal drugs for him. The investigation was in partnership with West Midlands Police and Warwickshire Police.

In March 2024, five members of an organised crime group who supplied heroin from Liverpool to Cornwall were sentenced to a total of 47 years for being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs. The group were arrested when warrants were simultaneously carried out in East Cornwall and Liverpool by police. An expert witness in the case estimated that the group trafficked in the region of 47kg of heroin into Cornwall in 45 parcels. Between August 2021 and July 2023, estimated profits of up to £4million were sent back to Liverpool.

During County lines Intensification Week in March, officers made 237 arrests linked to county lines activity, closed eight drug lines, seized 18kg of Class A and B drugs and recovered 39 weapons, including 19 knives and a handgun. The force also made 39 referrals to safeguarding services and schemes which provide a positive alternative to violence and criminality.

In November 2023, Merseyside Police was once again graded as outstanding at tackling serious and organised crime (SOC) by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Service (HMICFRS).

Trainee Detective Programme. Credit: Merseyside Police
Trainee Detective Programme. Credit: Merseyside Police

The force has been graded for its approach to SOC six times by HMICFRS since the first inspection back in 2016 and each time has been graded as outstanding.

The operation uses a multi-agency approach to disrupt gangs. Alongside arrests and charges, more than 1,100 children and adults have engaged with safeguarding partners and specialist support providers in the last year, which include Catch 22 and Change Grow Live (CGL).

The county lines taskforce deploys together with Change Grow Live (CGL) to identify vulnerable people involved in county lines and provide bespoke support to end the cycle of reoffending and drug addiction. Through this partnership working, vulnerable people, often victims of cuckooing and exploitation, have been signposted to safeguarding services and supported on their journey to recovery. 

Rachel Fance, Service Manager at Change Grow Live (CGL), said:

“At CGL St Helens, we are committed to providing support to individuals affected by county lines exploitation and associated drugs use. Through working closely with Merseyside Police on Project Medusa, CGL have been able to provide immediate, on the spot access to treatment and support to anyone who needs it.

“Our collaborative efforts means that vulnerable individuals can receive immediate safeguarding to keep them safe from further harms. By working together, we are not only disrupting harmful criminal activities but also providing a lifeline to those in need, helping them to break free from the cycle of exploitation and build safer, healthier futures.

“If you are concerned about your use of drugs or alcohol or are worried about someone that you know, you can access support and advice on our website www.changegrowlive.org or you can call 01744 410752.”

Trainee Detective Programme. Credit: Merseyside Police
Trainee Detective Programme. Credit: Merseyside Police

This is supported by the ongoing work of Operation Stonehaven, which looks to identify and safeguard vulnerable young people and adults through preventative engagement initiatives.

One example of this work is the Trainee Detective project with charity Everton in the Community, which was recognised as “promising practice” in the SOC report. The week-long programme is designed to help young people make the right decisions in the future and equip them to recognise the signs of criminal exploitation.

SIO Jimmy Belmar said:

“Since the launch of Project Medusa, we have worked tirelessly to target those who cause harm in our communities and operate county lines within our borders and beyond. In the last year alone, we have arrested 1,182 people and secured 252 convictions. 

“Exploitation, coercion, and violence are cornerstones of the county lines trade, and gangs will often trap young and vulnerable people into debt, forcing them to transport their drugs to other parts of the country. We are proud to continue our work to safeguard the most vulnerable in our communities, with more than 1,100 young people and adults identified and offered ongoing support by our brilliant partners in the last year alone.

“Project Medusa is a year-round operation, and we are using all resources available to us to crackdown on county lines. I would like to encourage anyone with information about drug dealing to report this to us via 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers.”

Vikki McKenna, Service Manager for the Catch22 Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing from Home service, said:

“Catch22 provides free, confidential and specialist 1-2-1 support to children and young people criminally exploited across Merseyside. 

“We also support the parents of children who are criminally exploited, thanks to funding from Merseyside Police, by providing the information and tools to help parents safeguard their children. Our preventative sessions for younger siblings empower them to spot the signs of grooming.

“For more information or to understand how you can access support please contact Vikki McKenna, Service Manager of the Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing Service, at 07979241502 or visit: Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing from Home | Catch22 (catch-22.org.uk).”

Merseyside Police’s ‘Silence is Not an Option’ campaign focuses on changing attitudes towards reporting gang-related activity and increasing intelligence reports to Crimestoppers anonymously to report serious and organised crime in Merseyside.

For more information, please visit: Give information 100% anonymously about organised crime in Merseyside | Crimestoppers (crimestoppers-uk.org)

If you are a young person who is worried about being involved in county lines, or knows someone who is, you can speak to an adult and let them know how you feel.

You can contact www.fearless.org who allow you to pass on information about crime anonymously, or Childline on 0800 1111. They are a private and confidential service where you can talk to counsellors about anything that is worrying you.

For more info on Merseyside Police click here.

For the latest news in Liverpool click here.

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