A man from Stevenage and a teenager from Hitchin were among those charged for drug-related offences in a series of police raids last week.

Aaron Cooper, 27, of Mobbsbury Way, Stevenage and Djelloul Belakehal, 18, of Redhill Road, Hitchin were both charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs, as part of Herts Police’s crackdown on drug gangs across the county.

Six others from Hoddesdon, Ware, Luton and London, were arrested or charged after raids were conducted by Operation Mantis officers between Monday September 14 and Friday September 18.

Operation Mantis is a specialist unit dedicated to tackling county lines gangs, and local policing command officers supported their work with eight arrests.

Detective Sergeant Jon Leak, from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Operation Mantis team, said: “We have been able to make a significant impact on these criminal gangs operating in Hertfordshire over the last two years.

“This latest week of action is part of our continuing drive to disrupt and dismantle County Lines operating in the county.

“We are taking a very proactive approach and making it difficult for these organisations to operate in our towns, identifying new gangs and targeting them early before they get a foothold and serious offences can occur.”

The Operation Mantis team was launched in 2018 and is made up of officers who specialise in targeting serious and organised crime.

Since May 2019 the team have executed over 150 search warrants, made 148 arrests and seized over £125,000 in cash.

This has led to 42 County Lines gangs being dismantled and offenders sentenced to more than 125 years in prison.

Detective Sgt Jon Leak added: “Police forces across the country took part in the coordinated week of action to target those who are involved in drugs supply and exploiting vulnerable people.

“We continue to work with partners at national and local level, to target these gangs and also to raise awareness of County Lines among young people, parents, teachers and other members of the community to help protect the vulnerable and prevent them from getting involved in gang activity.”

County lines is the name given to describe drug dealing, which involves criminal networks from urban areas expanding their activities into smaller towns and rural areas.

It often involves the exploitation of children, as gangs use young people and those with mental health or addiction problems to transport drugs and money.

These gangs establish a base in the location they are targeting, often taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.