‘County lines’ is a form of criminal exploitation. It is a police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. It involves CCE as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.
The HIPS Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships have a strategic focus on county lines due to its geographical location, its transport links with London and the mix of rural and city conurbations.
A typical county lines scenario is defined by the following components:
- A group (not necessarily affiliated as a gang) establishes a network between an urban hub and county location, into which drugs (primarily heroin and crack cocaine) are supplied.
- A branded mobile phone line is established in the market, to which orders are placed by introduced customers. The line will commonly (but not exclusively) be controlled by a third party, remote from the market.
- The group exploits young or vulnerable persons, to achieve the storage and/or supply of drugs, movement of cash proceeds and to secure the use of dwellings (commonly referred to as cuckooing).
- The group or individuals exploited by them regularly travel between the urban hub and the county market, to replenish stock and deliver cash.
- The group is inclined to use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms.
County lines and local drug networks can be linked. Therefore consideration needs to be given on crossover of networks interconnectivity.
The national picture continues to develop but there are recorded cases of:
- Children as young as 10 years old being exploited to courier drugs out of their local area.
- Young people of all genders are being involved, the average age between 13-17 years old.
- Gangs targeting children not of the ‘stereotype’, perceiving likely to evade police detection.
- Increased use of social media to make initial contact with children: ‘grooming’.
Young people involved in county lines may exhibit some of the signs listed below, either as a member or as an associate of a gang dealing drugs. Any sudden changes in their lifestyle should be discussed with them.
- Persistently going missing from school or home and/or being found out-of-area.
- Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones.
- Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls.
- Relationships with controlling/older individuals or groups.
- Leaving home/care without explanation.
- Suspicion of physical assault/unexplained injuries.
- Carrying weapons.
- Significant decline in school results/performance.
- Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks.
- Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing.
Practitioners working with a young or vulnerable person at risk of county lines exploitation should follow their local safeguarding guidance and share this information with local authority social care services via an inter-agency referral form (IARF).
If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police on 999.