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County Lines

County lines is a term used to describe gangs, groups or drug networks that supply drugs from urban to suburban areas across the country, including market and coastal towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. They exploit children and vulnerable adults to move the drugs and money to and from the urban area, and to store the drugs in local markets. Victims are recruited using intimidation, deception, violence, debt bondage or grooming. During this process the ‘victims’ are likely to commit criminal offences.

The most common drugs involved are heroin and cocaine (crack and powder), but also MDMA, cannabis, amphetamines and spice. Children as young as 12 years old and up to 17 years old are recruited, often using social media. They are exploited and forced to carry drugs between locations, usually on trains or coaches. They are also forced to sell drugs to local users.

Gangs and networks are also known to target vulnerable adults and take over their premises to distribute Class A drugs in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

County Lines puts people at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation, as well as serious harm through physical and sexual violence and emotional abuse.


Who are the victims?

  • The victims can be anyone in your community – they can be as young as 10 or as old as 90 – criminal gangs exploit vulnerability in all its forms
  • Young people may become trapped through experimental drug use or mixing with the wrong crowd and the building up of a drug debt
  • Once in debt to a dealer they will be encouraged to sell drugs to pay the debt off
  • The gang will ensure the debt is never fully paid off and the victim can quickly become trapped in a cycle where their only option is to commit further crime – the more crime they commit the less likely they are to tell someone what is happening or seek help
  • They will be dispatched to travel to other parts of the country where they are not known to police or social services and can essentially fly under the radar
  • During this time away from home they are highly at risk of coming to further harm at the hands of people they are dealing to or rival local drug dealers
  • Older people may become exploited to also traffick drugs, weapons and cash but additionally their homes night get taken over by gangs needing somewhere to hide drugs or deal from
  • Adults with mental or physical disabilities, adults with addictions or adults who are particularly elderly may suffering ‘cuckooing’ where a gang take over their home
  • Other victims include the relatives of the exploited person who ‘lose’ their loved one to a criminal gang, and the communities where the drug dealing and associated violence is exported to


What are the signs?

Here are some signs to look out for that can suggest that someone you know might be involved in county lines activity.

  • Are they always going missing from school or their home?
  • Are they travelling alone to places far away from home?
  • Do they suddenly have lots of money/lots of new clothes/new mobile phones?
  • Are they receiving much more calls or texts than usual?
  • Are they being very protective of their phone/ reluctant to let it out of sight or off their person? (may act violently or be visibly scared if their phone is lost or confiscated)
  • Are they carrying or selling drugs?
  • Are they carrying weapons or know people that have access to weapons?
  • Are they in a relationship with or hanging out with someone/people that are older and controlling?
  • Do they have unexplained injuries?
  • Do they seem very reserved or seem like they have something to hide?
  • Do they seem scared?
  • Are they self-harming?
  • Have they suddenly stopped partaking in hobbies/pastimes?
  • Are they no longer engaging with services/ young groups?
  • Are they limping (from ‘warning stabs’ to legs and buttocks’?

Here are some things that can indicate ‘cuckooing’

  • More comings and goings, including people you haven’t seen before, throughout the day and night, visiting for short periods of time
  • Bags of clothing or bedding around the property
  • An increase in crime and anti-social behaviour in and around the property
  • An increase in the number of vehicles outside the property including taxis or hire cars
  • Evidence of drug use such as deal bags, discarded syringes, weighing scales, foil and cling film in and around the property.


What to do
If you are concerned that a child or young person is caught up in county line please contact the Front Door for Families on 01273 290400 for advice and support.

Further information produced by the National Crime Agency can be found here