“County Lines” activity is when organised gangs from major cities
intimidation and violence to force vulnerable people to get involved in
the illegal drug trade in smaller towns and rural areas.
Relying on a dedicated mobile phone line, known as a deal line,
they use “runners” to distribute drugs and transport cash across a particular region.
It’s a destructive and distressing crime, causing untold damage to
those involved and their communities.
In a bid to tackle exploitation and gang violence, including
activities around County Lines, the Home Office has produced government
guidance for frontline staff working with vulnerable people, which can be accessed
Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance.
Who is behind County Lines?
Drug dealers and gangs from large cities across Britain. Using others
to transport drugs and money allows them to remain behind the scenes and out of
sight of the law. Through force, enticement and threats of or actual violence,
they prey on vulnerable people.
These gang members are often involved in a range of criminal
activity, from money laundering and violence to grooming and sexual
slavery and human trafficking.
Who is vulnerable to exploitation?
The runners are vulnerable children, young people or adults, male
or female, who are targeted and groomed by the gangs.
Child Criminal Exploitation is particularly prevalent in this
crime and those as young as 12 have been involved, although most tend to be
around the age of 15 to 16.
They may already have been neglected or abused, suffer from
social, economic or health issues, or have issues around mental health or
substance misuse. They may already have connections with gang members. Those in
care or with a lack of stability in their home environment are also vulnerable.
The victims might be of any nationality or ethnic background,
although gangs sometimes prefer to work with white British children, as the
perception is that they are less likely to be stopped by the police.
How does County Lines activity work?
There is usually a power imbalance of some kind between the
perpetrators and those they exploit. The relationship may appear consensual on
the surface, but is based on exploitation or coercion.
As well as situations where adults prey on vulnerable children,
issues such as cognitive ability, status and physical strength can come into
play. Those exploited might also be given or promised rewards, whether money or
items they want, or protection, status or apparent friendship/affection. They
may alternatively or additionally act under threat of harm to themselves or
What is “cuckooing”?
This is where a gang takes over an area and/or someone’s home to
set up a base. These are usually vulnerable people, such class A drug users,
alcoholics, sex workers, those with health issues, single mothers, older people
or people living in poverty. The person may remain in their home or be forced
What action is being taken around County Lines?
The National Crime Agency, the police, government agencies and
voluntary and community groups are all involved in tackling the issue of County
Professionals who operate in a range of organisations, from health
and education to law enforcement, should be aware of the government guidance
and find ways of working together.
They should also look for signs of individual’s becoming involved
in County Lines, from injuries, self-harm or behavioural changes, to
unexplained phones, cash or belongings, to absenting themselves from home,
school or work, or having relationships with people who are older and/or
Local safeguarding guidance is available to provide a framework for
those working with vulnerable people who may be involved with County Lines
exploitation. Information should be shared with the relevant authorities, such
as the police and the victim’s local public or children’s protection officer.
Information is also available from organisations such as the
NSPCC, The Children’s Society and Childline; Mind (for mental health issues)
and Crimestoppers (including their youth programme Fearless).