The term County Lines describes gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into other areas of the country, often small towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or another form of 'deal line' which can be a person. They are likely to exploit children or vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.
How do gangs get children and adults to work for them?
Often there is an exchange between the child or vulnerable adult and gang member who receives something they need or want for carrying out a task. This may be cash, drugs, clothes or even protection, status, affection or perceived friendship. They may also carry out a task out of fear of violence or retribution.
What is Cuckooing?
Cuckooing is a form of county lines crime in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to criminally exploit them as a base for drug dealing, often in multi-occupancy or social housing properties.
What are the signs to look out for?
The following signs could suggest that someone is being exploited through county lines activity:
Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
Missing from home or schools and/or significant decline in performance
New friends or relationships with those who don't share any mutual friendships with the victim or anyone else
May be carrying a weapon
Receiving more texts or calls than usual
Sudden influx of cash, clothes or mobile phones
Significant changes in emotional well-being
The following signs suggest that someone could be a victim of cuckooing:
Increase in anti-social behaviour
A neighbour who hasn't been seen for an extended period
Increase in people entering or leaving or an increase in cars or bikes outside a home
Signs of drug use
Windows covered or curtains closed for a long period
Who is at risk?
Any child, young person or vulnerable person could be at risk of being criminally exploited by drugs or organised crime gangs. However, some are more vulnerable including those who are:
Experiencing domestic violence, parental drug abuse or criminality
Have an unstable home life
Are excluded from school and suffering social isolation
Suffering homelessness or living in insecure accommodation
Have learning or physical disabilities and/or mental health issues
Have associations with criminality or being in care
How can you help?
Everyone can help by learning the signs to look out for and being vigilant within their work and home environments.
Make a report
If you believe you may be a victim (or think somebody may be a victim) of exploitation through county lines or cuckooing, we advise you to contact one of the following: