County Lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas (within the UK), using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of ‘deal line’. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to act as runners to move and store drugs and money. They often use coercion, intimidation, violence including sexual violence and weapons.
‘Cuckooing’ is a method commonly associated with County Lines, where offenders from outside of the area – often heroin and crack cocaine dealers – take over the homes of local residents to create bases from which they supply local drugs markets. From cases nationally and locally, it is understood that this method can often involve serious violence, coercion and manipulation, often targeting vulnerable people such as drug users, single mothers and people with learning disabilities.
Children often don’t see themselves as victims or realise they have been groomed to get involved in criminality. So, it is important that we all play our part to understand County Lines and speak out if we have concerns.
The signs to spot
A young person involved in County Lines activity may show some of these signs:
- persistently going missing from school or home, or being found ‘out of area’
- unexplained possession of money, clothes or mobile phones
- receiving too many texts or phone calls
- relationships with controlling, older individuals, or gang association
- parental concerns and leaving home or a care setting without explanation
- suspicion of self-harm, physical assault, or unexplained injuries
- significant decline in school performance and changes in emotional wellbeing
- young people seen in different cars and taxis driven by unknown adults
- young people seeming to be unfamiliar with their community or where they are
What to do if you have concerns
The best advice is to trust your instincts. Even if someone is not involved in County Lines drug dealing, they may be being exploited in some other way, so it is always worth speaking out.
If you are a young person who is worried about your own involvement, or a friend’s involvement in County Lines, a good option is to speak to an adult you trust – talk to them about your concerns.
Safer Somerset Partnership has launched a county-wide County Lines campaign in partnership with CrimeStoppers in a bid to stop illegal drug related criminal activity operating in the area.
If you are concerned for the welfare of a child or young person, please contact the police on 101 – or 999 if urgent. If you have information that will help the police investigate this crime but wish to remain anonymous you can contact CrimeStoppers online or phone 0800 555111.
Illegal drugs activity is nothing new, but the risk of serious violence, the sophistication of the method and the targeted exploitation of vulnerable members of our communities makes County Lines a priority area of work for Safer Somerset Partnership. For this reason, we are delighted to present Somerset’s first County Lines Strategy: Somerset County Lines Strategy – 2020-21