DOZENS of people from the town turned out for a public meeting to ‘Say NO to drugs in the Welshpool area’.

The event raised awareness of County Lines drug gangs who are targeting the Welshpool area. It also aimed to help the audience identify young people who may be involved with drugs.

The meeting was organised by County Councillors Graham Breeze and Amanda Jenner, in conjunction with Dyfed Powys Police and supported by Welshpool Town Council.

Cllr Breeze said: “It’s all part of creating more awareness. More awareness of what’s going on in the Welshpool area and knowing what to look out for.”

“It’s about teaching parents and other people who work with young people how to spot the signs, and where to go for help,” Cllr Jenner added.

Cllr Jenner said: “Cuckooing and County Lines are terms which are new to people, they don’t know what they mean. It’s about putting them in context in real use, and getting the message out.”

‘Cuckooing’ is when drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for drug dealing. ‘County Lines’ is a term used for when drug gangs from big cities expand their operations to smaller towns in rural areas, often using violence to drive out local dealers and exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs.

Cllr Breeze said: “It’s about opening people’s eyes with what’s going on.”

There was a panel of representatives from different organisations at the event. They all spoke to the audience, and afterwards there were question and answer sessions. On the panel was PC Matthew Price, Louise Sandham from CAIS, a charity that offers help to people who are having problems with addictions, mental health, personal development and employment, and James Varty from the drug and alcohol service provider Kaleidoscope.

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Steve Kaye, Mayor of Welshpool, said: “People here are worried about their children taking drugs. They think it’s the norm. “We do a really good job with the end product, but we don’t want them to be the end product.”

THERE were around 60 people at the public meeting, many of whom asked questions to the panel and addressed the crowd at the town hall.

One person took the opportunity to open up about his dad’s experiences with drugs, and the impact interacting with drug dealers can have on your life.

“I welcome this event, absolutely. Perhaps it’s overdue,” he said.

He said that he wanted to tell everybody what it’s like to have “first hand experience”.

“We need to talk about the impacts of what we’re talking about tonight,” he said.

He said that over the years there have been “countless examples” of difficulties his family has faced which are related to drugs in the town.

Speaking of his father, he said: “He’s had health problems. He’s had £100 stolen from him, in hard cash and from an ATM; and is in massive debt as a result.

“There’s been threats of violence, in both directions. Countless interventions by the police and the council.

“Someone has moved into my dad’s house and taken up residence. There’s been thefts of food.”

He said that he was contacted by someone to say that a man “you all know” asked his dad for spice, and that the same man had later stolen £50 from him.

Addressing the panel, he said: “I appreciate your work, but from the personal experience of my dad and my family, identifying people is the minimum you can do.”

Dyfed-Powys Police Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn, announced Welshpool was in the front line when it comes to trying to stop County Lines gangs entering the area.

“Welshpool and Newtown, because of their closeness to urban areas like Wrexham, Manchester, Shrewsbury, Telford, are very much at the front line and the reason why it has seen additional enforcement activity and funding through my office in recent months,” said Mr Llewelyn.

“We don’t want to see these organised crime groups getting a foothold in the Dyfed-Powys force area. We don’t want to see the drug related deaths or deaths and violence that comes with it. We have seen murders in North Wales and places not too far away, linked to County Lines.”