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County Lines - combatting exploitation by criminal gangs

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County Lines is the police term use for the criminal exploitation of children, young people and adults. Learn what to look for and how to report it.

County Lines is the police term used for the criminal exploitation of children, young people and adults. It is where urban gangs use people to move drugs and money across the country using dedicated mobile phone 'deal lines'. It comes with the associated harms to the person such as sexual exploitation, violence and human trafficking.

What happens?

Gangs establish a base in a particular location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’. They then target people to become involved in selling drugs through a process of grooming. Once the person is involved it is difficult to escape.

We know that county lines exploitation is widespread, with gangs from big cities including London, Manchester and Liverpool operating throughout England, Wales and Scotland. 

Early intervention

To counter this problem early intervention is essential. Part of this is raising public awareness of this crime in the local community, encouraging people to step forward and report it.

How you can help - know what to look for and report it

Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation at a property are:

  • visitors at unusual times of the day or night;
  • suspicious smells around the property;
  • a resident getting more visitors;
  • a resident who has stopped leaving their house;
  • curtains or blinds being almost always shut;
  • anti-social behaviour increasing around the property.

Potential indicators that someone is being exploited include (the top ones are most relevant to young people):

  • 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 and/or having multiple handsets; 
  • relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups; 
  • leaving home / care without explanation; 
  • suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries; 
  • parental concerns; 
  • carrying weapons; 
  • significant decline in school results / performance; 
  • gang association or isolation from peers or social networks; 
  • self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.

100% anonymous

Reporting suspicious activity will help to safeguard many vulnerable individuals who have been coerced into these networks.  Roger Critchell, Crimestoppers Director of Operation, says: “Gangs coming in from other areas only add to any existing drug-related issues, so we are asking anyone who has information to contact us, safe in the knowledge nobody will know you have done so. We won’t judge or ask any personal details. All we want to know is what you know, and you’ll remain 100% anonymous.  Always.”

Have concerns?

If you or a resident have concerns that someone is being exploited, please report it to Kent Police by calling 101, or Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111 or via their online form.

Further advice

The Home Office provides guidance for professionals on dealing with county lines, as a part of the government’s approach to ending gang violence and exploitation.  
Download the Home Office Guidance booklet.

Download the County Lines poster.


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