County Lines Drug Dealing

County Lines Drug Dealing is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.


We work alongside West Mercia Police and Shropshire Recovery Partnership to tackle any instances of County Lines Drug Dealing in our communities.


Please read through the different varieties of exploitation and drug dealing that can occur within County Lines and submit one of the online forms at the bottom of the page to report anything you feel relevant.

Child Criminal Exploitation

 Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.


Case Study from Suffolk Police -

A 16 year old male had been reported as missing from London and was considered at risk due to his age and link to gangs. He had recently failed to appear at court for his alleged involvement in a stabbing. He was found in possession of a 6-inch kitchen knife and 30 wraps of drugs. Whilst in custody he was found to have significant burns to his body, on his stomach area, consistent with having been burnt by boiling liquid. He would not disclose further details; however it was suspected this may have been caused by those responsible for placing him in Ipswich to deal in class A drugs.

How Does it Affect Young People and Vulnerable Adults?

Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:

• can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years;
• can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years;
• can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual;
• can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
• can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults;
• is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.


One of the key factors found in most cases of county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange (e.g. carrying drugs in return for something). Where it is the victim who is offered, promised or given something they need or want, the exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection). It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a young person or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim. It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, for example a young person who engages in county lines activity to stop someone carrying out a threat to harm his/her family.


A Case Study from South Wales Police - 

At least one vulnerable female has been used by a gang from London to sexually service its members and has been subjected to sexual violence. As a result of drugs debts they attempted to kidnap her at least twice and it is believed that they have also trafficked her to London in order to pay off a debt through prostitution.

Who is Vulnerable to County Lines Exploitation?

The national picture on county lines continues to develop but there are recorded cases of:

• children as young as 12 years old being exploited or moved by gangs to courier drugs out of their local area; 15-16 years is the most common age range.
• both males and females being exploited.
• White British children being targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection but a person of any ethnicity or nationality may be exploited.
• the use of social media to make initial contact with children and young people.
• class A drug users being targeted so that gangs can takeover their homes (known as ‘cuckooing’).


We do know that county lines exploitation is widespread, with gangs from big cities including London, Manchester and Liverpool operating throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Gangs are known to target vulnerable children and adults; some of the factors that heighten a person’s vulnerability include:

• having prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse
• lack of a safe/stable home environment, now or in the past (domestic violence or parental
substance misuse, mental health issues or criminality, for example)
• social isolation or social difficulties
• economic vulnerability
• homelessness or insecure accommodation status
• connections with other people involved in gangs
• having a physical or learning disability
• having mental health or substance misuse issues;
• being in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories)
• being excluded from mainstream education, in particular attending a Pupil Referral Unit.


A Case Study from The Eastern Regions - 

The [county lines] group were consuming and selling drugs from within the property and prevented the [homeowner] from leaving the address or going to the toilet areas.

Signs to Look Out For

A young person’s involvement in county lines activity often leaves signs. A person might exhibit some of these signs, either as a member or as an associate of a gang dealing drugs. Any sudden changes in a person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them. Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below, with those at the top of particular concern:

• 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.