What is County Lines?
County Lines is the term used for a form of criminal exploitation, in which well-organised criminal gangs groom and manipulate children and vulnerable adults into drug dealing. Organised, illegal drug dealing networks are controlled by a person using a single telephone number or ‘deal line.’ Gangs use the phones to receive orders and contact young people to tell them where to deliver drugs.
Young people aged 14-17 are most likely to be targeted by criminal groups to transport and deliver drugs outside their home county, often to suburban areas, market towns and coastal towns. It can happen in any part of the UK and is against the law and a form of child abuse. Gangs are also grooming and recruiting children as young as seven years old. Primary school children are seen as easy targets because they are less likely to get caught. The grooming might start with them being asked to ‘keep an eye out’ but it will soon develop into them being forced to hide weapons, money or become drug runners. Children and young people are groomed into exploitation and abuse both online and offline.
Once involved, children and young people can be criminally exploited in many ways. This can include – child sexual exploitation, forced labour, made to launder money for criminals through their own bank accounts, stealing, and gang and knife crime.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from or your social background, children from any community can be groomed into county lines.
How to spot possible victims
There are several signs to look out for when someone has been lured into this activity; these include:
- Change in behaviour – anxious, frightened, angry or displaying other behaviours that make you worried about them
- Signs of assault and/or malnutrition
- Access to numerous phones
- Use of unusual terms e.g. going country
- Associating with gangs
- Unexplained bus or train tickets
- School truancy or going missing
- Unexplained gifts (clothes, trainers) and cash
- Potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Being instructed or controlled by another individual
- Seen begging in a public space
- Travelling alone, possibly in school hours, late at night or very frequently
- Accompanied by individuals who are older than them
Where might a county lines gang look to target and approach vulnerable young people?
- parks, supermarkets, around town
- schools and further and higher educational institutions
- special educational needs schools
- places for alternative provision outside of mainstream education
- foster homes
- homeless shelters
- online gaming environments
- social media
County Lines Slang
Phrases that young people may use to refer to county lines include:
- ‘running a line’,
- ‘going OT/out there’
- ‘going country’
- ‘going cunch’
Have a look at The Children’s Society Slang Dictionary for a comprehensive guide about language used in county lines.
What is cuckooing?
Cuckooing is a form of crime, termed by the police, in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for county lines drug trafficking. The crime is named for the cuckoo’s practice of taking over other birds’ nests for its young.
What is a trap house (or bando)?
A trap house is a place where illicit drugs are bought, sold, or used. Trap houses shelter drug users and provide a place for drug dealers to supply them. Drug houses can also be used as laboratories to synthesize drugs, or cache ingredients.
What to do if you are worried.
If you think a young person you know could be in immediate danger then you must call 999. If you have non-urgent information to share with the police contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or the police on 101.
If you are concerned about a child’s welfare, contact your local social care department. The Children’s Society also have a guide for parents who may be concerned about their child being involved in county lines. That can be accessed here. Parents’ Guide