County Lines

County Lines is a form of criminal exploitation that is illegal and classed as child abuse.

The 2018 Home Office Serious Crime Strategy states that “the definition of a County Line 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.”

Source The National Crime Agency

County Lines is a method of exploitation where criminals commonly exploit children under the age of 18 to carry out the visible drug dealing whilst allowing perpetrators to remain at a distance in relative safety. The exploited children do the majority of the work and carry most of the risk. This means the perpetrators can maximise their profits and the individual children involved are viewed as expendable and easily replaceable if they do get apprehended by the police. Threats and intimidation commonly prevent the children from being able to tell the police or other agencies what is happening to them, as the danger to them and their family from being a ‘grass’ or a ‘snitch’ is very real.

County lines often intersects with other serious crimes such as sexual exploitation, violence, money laundering, human trafficking and gun and knife crime. It is possible for one child to be exploited in several ways at the same time.

What are the Indicators of County Lines?

This is not an exhaustive list, but some common indicators of county lines are: 

  • Going missing from home or school
  • Suddenly having lots of money, new possessions, new clothes or trainers that they cannot account for
  • Receiving more calls/texts than usual
  • Being very protective of their mobile phone or having multiple phones or SIM cards
  • Using new language, words or hand signs you wouldn’t expect them to know
  • Changing their appearance, e.g. dressing in a particular way or style, or use of particular colours
  • Changes in behaviour e.g. being scared, aggressive, distant or angry
  • Talking about an individual or group who have a lot of influence over them
  • Hanging around with individuals or groups that are older than them and breaking ties with old friends
  • Dropping out of positive activities and hobbies
  • Unexplained physical injuries and/or refusal to seek or accept medical treatment
  • Travelling alone to places far from home or being found by services out of area
  • Unexplained bus or train tickets
  • Carrying drugs, large amounts of money or weapons
  • Self-harming and substance misuse issues 

As professionals it’s important to remember that exploitation is a form of child abuse and the boundaries may at first seem unclear when intervening with and supporting exploited children. The young people may be viewed at first glance as perpetrators or criminals but it’s vital to recognize that they are usually victims as well.

How to respond

If you think a child is in immediate danger always call the emergency services on 999.

To discuss a non-emergency matter with the Police call 101.

If you are concerned that a child or young person is being harmed or is at risk of harm, but there is no immediate danger, or you need advice or information, please call Coventry Children's Social Care at the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 024 7678 8555.

Out of office hours please call the Emergency Duty Social Worker on 024 7683 2222.