Guy Martin has been making new work in rural areas of the West Midlands responding to the impact of ‘County Lines’ drug gangs.
The County Lines is a reminder of the often misrepresented rural landscape as something picturesque, idyllic and safe. Instead the realities include income inequality, poverty, poor access to services, poor public transport, limited social housing, poor transport connections and a lack of access to education.
These pictures were made based on conversations and meetings with Vennture (a Hereford based charity) and West Mercia Police. The project reveals the location of a meeting point where drug dealers and drug users meet, locations of where murders and violent crime have taken place, where rival drug gangs have fought for control and glimpses of police stations and buildings where under-resourced forces are trying to counter the spread of crime into their counties. Other pictures are informed by the locations of men and women experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping and how they too are ensnarled in the selling and taking of drugs.
‘County lines’ refers to a crime where drug gangs exploit children and vulnerable adults to make them courier drugs and money across the country from the gang’s bases in large cities to customers in rural towns and villages. The ‘county line’ itself is a phone line, controlled by the dealer, which can be given to a runner who the drug users can contact for a delivery.
Gangs are hiring vulnerable young people and adults across rural areas as part of the planned expansion of their business from cities into rural populations – using them as mules as they are unassuming enough to avoid suspicion and detection.
The rise in county lines drug gangs comes at a time of harsh reality in rural communities. Budget cuts to local councils and a decade of austerity have led to less policing and public services in the rural West Midlands. Rural crime is on the rise, quite often to repay debts that vulnerable young local people have incurred as they get involved with the selling of drugs. Violent crime of this sort flourishes especially when young people feel they have no stake in the future of their communities.
The coronavirus outbreak has affected entire industries, including businesses and employers in rural areas. The market for drugs is more resilient and demand increases during times of crisis.
Guy Martin (b.1983) graduated with a B.A(HONS) in DocumentaryPhotography from the University of Wales, Newport. He has been a member of Panos Pictures since 2011. From January 2011 he began to document the revolutions sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa. From 2012 he was been based inIstanbul Turkey, where he produced ‘The Parallel State’ his first book about the rise of Turkish soft power and the complex new identities in the Turkish Republic. The book was published in 2018 by GOST books and subsequently was listed as on of Time Magazine’s best photo books of the year.
Image Credit: Guy Martin