'County lines' is a term used to describe networks of gangs and organised crime groups, who use children, young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf.
This criminal exploitation is known as 'county lines' as young children travel across counties and use dedicated mobile phone 'lines' to supply drugs.
As well as the storage and supply of drugs, gangs also use children for the movement of cash proceeds (money mules) and to secure the use of dwellings (commonly referred to as 'cuckooing').
Criminal gangs groom children into trafficking their drugs for them with promises of money, friendship and status. Once they've been drawn in, children are often controlled using threats, violence and sexual abuse. These children can then become trapped in criminal exploitation and feel as if they have no choice but to continue doing what the criminals want.
What are signs of criminal exploitation and county lines?
- Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work.
- Going missing from home, staying out late and travelling for unexplained reasons.
- In a relationship or hanging out with someone older than them.
- Being angry, aggressive or violent.
- Being isolated or withdrawn.
- Having unexplained money and buying new things.
- Wearing clothes or accessories in gang colours or getting tattoos.
- Using new slang words.
- Spending more time on social media and being secretive about time online.
- Unexplained injuries.
- Carrying weapons.
- Making more calls or sending more texts, possibly on a new phone or phones.
- Taking drugs / abusing alcohol.
- Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.
The police work collaboratively with other forces and regional organised crime units to build intelligence, tackle the demand for drugs, ensure disruption of county lines activity, protect the vulnerable and carry out enforcement activity.
What to do if you have concerns
- If you have information you wish to share with the police, contact your local police force.
- If you believe a young person you know could be in immediate danger, call 999.
- If you are a young person who is worried about your involvement, or a friend's involvement in county lines, it is a good option to speak to a family member or trusted adult about your concerns.