An updated report by the National Crime Agency (NCA) has found that the use of ‘county lines’ by gangs, is a growing issue, and is exploiting ever-younger victims.
County lines exploitation describes how gangs from large urban areas supply drugs to suburban and rural locations; using vulnerable children and young people to courier drugs and money.
The definition of County lines was first identified in 2014, with the NCA report published the following year. Its 2016 update provides more insight; highlighting how county lines exploitation remains a widespread issue and a key driver of criminality and violence.
Typically, gangs use mobile phone lines to facilitate drug orders and supply to users. They also use local property as a base; these often belong to a vulnerable adult and are obtained through force or coercion (known as ‘cuckooing’).
It also finds that the age of those involved is getting younger, with children as young as 12 being targeted. Gangs ‘recruit’ through deception, intimidation, violence, debt bondage and/or grooming into drug use and/or child sexual exploitation.
While there has been an increased awareness of the use of children and young people in county line markets, more needs to be done as it cuts across a number of issues such as drug dealing, violence, gangs, child sexual exploitation, safeguarding, modern slavery and missing persons.
The Government has now set up a new Working Group on County Lines to lead a 12-month action plan to tackle the issue. It is calling on departments, agencies and organisations across all key sectors to work with them, to ensure practitioners working directly with children and vulnerable adults know what county lines exploitation is, how to identify those at risk or involved, and what to do.
NCA National Briefing Report: County Lines Gang Violence, Exploitation & Drug Supply 2016