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You have probably heard the term ‘County Lines’ and seen it on the news or in the soaps on TV. But what does this mean? The National Crime Agency define ‘County Lines’ as:
‘the transportation of illegal drugs from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs.’
The ‘line’ refers to the phone line used by the dealers to take orders for drugs and to give instructions to the people they are exploiting to carry the drugs. Whilst it is usually teenagers aged 13-17 who are coerced by the gangs, the Children’s Society report that children as young as seven have been targeted by the gangs as they are less likely to attract attention and be suspected of committing crimes. Others who are commonly targeted include vulnerable and looked-after children, those who are using alcohol or substances themselves, young people who live with parental addiction and/or domestic abuse and people with learning difficulties who may not understand what is happening and the consequences of their actions.
A number of County Lines gangs have been intercepted in Cumbria recently, with the courts sentencing gang members from Merseyside for having drugs transported into Cumbria, with Barrow being a hotspot for them. Whilst the courts may have sentenced some of the ringleaders, it is important to remember that unfortunately, there are always more waiting to take over. Additionally, it is likely that the victims will require support to recover from their experiences, as the NCA report that many are threatened with weapons and subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse by the ringleaders.
Concerns relating to County Lines should be reported to the police on 101 (999 in an emergency). Safeguarding concerns should also be raised with the Safeguarding Hub by calling 0333 240 1727. People who care concerned about their substance use or are affected by someone else’s can seek support and advice from our helpline: 0800 2 54 56 58.