by Louise Arnold, Regulatory and Enforcement Solicitor
What does County Lines mean?
County lines refers to the movement of gangs who are affiliated with drugs moving from large cities to small towns in order to expand their operations. This often results in violence to drive out members of the local community and the exploitation of young and vulnerable individuals, it can also lead to problems with cuckooing. (Cuckooing refers to the process by which a property – generally that of a vulnerable occupier, is taken over by drug gangs who use the property as a base for distribution. The occupier is often not aware of what is happening or too afraid to speak out.)
Tackling County Lines and Anti-Social Behaviour
In 2018 the North West Leicestershire Police, North West Leicestershire District Council (NWLDC) and other partners identified a link between drug activity and anti-social behaviour within the community. Intelligence sharing identified that individuals from Nottingham, Coventry, London and Leicester were being sent into the local community. This led to Operation Camel.
In September 2018 NWLDC and the Police set a new record for the number of closure orders obtained and executed in any one day.
In total Operation Camel has to date resulted in 14 closure orders, 11 evictions, 11 warrants and 19 arrests, providing a united message from each key authority that anti-social behaviour and drug related behaviour will not be tolerated within the local community and the protection of vulnerable individuals is a key priority.
What are Closure Orders?
Since October 2014 police and local authorities have had the ability to close premises which are associated with nuisance and disorder pursuant to part 4 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (ASBCPA 2014).
Anti-social behaviour is a significant and growing issue for local authorities and the wider public. The tools to tackle anti-social behaviour have been evolving over the last few years. Part 4 of the ASBCPA 2014 gives local authorities and the police powers to quickly close premises that are being used, or are likely to be used to commit nuisance or disorder.
There are two stages to the Act – stage 1 is a Closure Notice and stage 2 is a Closure Order.
Stage 1 – Closure Notices
Before exercising closure powers under the ASBCPA 2014 the Applicant (either a local authority or the police) must be satisfied that either;
- the use of the premises has resulted, or if a closure order is not issued is likely soon to result, in nuisance to members of the public, or
- there has been, or if a closure order is not issued is likely soon to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises, and
- the closure notice is necessary to prevent the nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring (Section 76 ASBCPA 2014).
Closure notices can be used as a preventative measure not just in cases of existing anti-social behaviour. For example, if police gathered intelligence to suggest that disorder was likely to occur in the vicinity of a nightclub on a specific night or over a specific period then they could issue a closure notice as a way of preventing the anti-social behaviour from happening.
Before issuing a Closure Notice the Applicant should make reasonable efforts to inform those living in, and anyone who has control or responsibility of, the premises that a Closure Notice is going to be served (section 76(6) ASBCPA 2014). In addition before issuing a Closure Notice the Applicant must consult any body or individual that they think it would be appropriate to consult. If the Applicant is the Police they should consult with the local authority and vice versa.
The information that should be contained in the Closure Notice is set out in section 76(5) ASBCPA 2014.
Stage 2 – Closure Orders
An application for a Closure Order must be heard in the Magistrates Court within 48 hours of the Closure Notice being served unless the Notice has been cancelled under section 78. The court needs to be satisfied that one of the following applies:
- that a person has engaged, or if the Closure Order is not made is likely to engage, in disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises
- the use of a particular premises has resulted, or if the Closure Order is not made is likely to result, in serious nuisance to members of the public, or
- there has been, or if the Closure Order is not made is likely to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises and
- the Closure Order is necessary to prevent the behaviour, nuisance or disorder from continuing, recurring or occurring (Section 80(5) ASBCPA 2014).
A Closure Order prohibits access to the premises for the period specified on the Order – a maximum (initially) of 3 months. The 3 months can be extended, upon evidence, for a further (maximum) of 3 months.
The introduction of the ASBCPA 2014 provided more flexibility by allowing the Order to prohibit access for everyone (i.e. a full Closure Order), for those named or for everyone but those named in the Order (i.e. a partial Closure Order)(Section 80(7) ASBCP 2014).
Once the Order has been made and served in accordance with the Act and the premises has been closed and secured a person commits an offence if they:
- obstruct anyone serving a Closure Order or anyone trying to secure the premises, or
- remain at or enter the premises subject to the Closure Order
The offender is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment, and/or an unlimited fine (Section 86 ASBCPA 2014).
Post Closure Order – Possession Proceedings
Within 3 months of a Closure Order ending an Applicant can apply to the court for possession under the Housing Act 1985, section 84(A), Condition 4 which is a mandatory ground.
NWLDC successfully relied on this mandatory ground to gain possession from all of the NWLDC tenants who were subject to Closure Orders.
The Partnership between NWLDC and the NWL Police
The Police and NWLDC’s Legal, Community Safety and Housing Teams worked closely and shared staff and resources to achieve the aims of Operation Camel.
The efficient and close working partnership has played a huge role in breaking the cycle and has produced a clear and united message that anti-social behaviour and drug related activity will not be tolerated in the District of North West Leicestershire.