County Lines drugs: What does it mean and how does it affect Lancashire?

As alarming figures show more than 700 people have been arrested and £400,000 worth of drugs confiscated during a UK-wide operation to tackle 'County Lines' drug operations, we look deeper into the issue.

By Stef Hall
Friday, 18th October 2019, 12:46 pm
County Lines drug dealing often sees young people exploited
County Lines drug dealing often sees young people exploited

County Lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas, as well as market and coastal towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines.

Drug gangs from bigger cities expand their operations to smaller towns, often using violence to drive out other dealers and exploiting children or vulnerable people from the area to sell or transport illegal street drugs.

Heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine are the most common drugs supplied and ordered.

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The activity is been linked to Child Criminal Exploitation, which is when a child or young person is exploited for profit, labour, sexual satisfaction or personal financial advantage.

The dealers will frequently target children and adults - often with mental health or addiction problems - to act as drug runners or move cash so they can stay under the radar of law enforcement.

At first drugs runners are 'encouraged' with things that they want or need such as money, gifts like designer clothes and trainers, status, perceived friendship, or protection in return for completing tasks.

But soon these gifts and 'benefits' turn into threats, debts, and intimidation tactics, which make it very difficult for new recruits to say no.

Children as young as 10 and vulnerable adults are known to have been made to travel many miles away from home to coastal towns and rural locations to deliver Class A drugs

Tackling county lines, and the supply gangs responsible for high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse of vulnerable adults and children, is a priority for the authorities, and several County Lines networks have been exposed in Lancashire in the last three years.

In February three men Damien Ivory, 23, of Basil Street, Bradford, Tanaka Mutambirwa, 25, of no fixed address, and Jayden Williams-Jeffrey, 25, of Allerton Road, Bradford, admitted two counts of conspiring to supply class A drugs in Morecambe and were jailed.

And in September, members of a Blackpool County Lines drug gang were jailed for a total of 43 years.

In some cases the dealers will take over a local property, normally belonging to a vulnerable person, and use it to operate their criminal activity from. This is known as cuckooing.

The National Crime Agency has issued signs to look out for if you suspect County Lines drug dealing is happening in your community.

They include:

An increase in visitors, cars, new faces to a house or flat

Change in resident's mood or demeanour (e.g. secretive/ withdrawn/ aggressive/ emotional)

Substance misuse or drug paraphernalia

Residents or young people you know going missing, maybe for long periods of time

Changes in the way young people you might know dress

Unexplained, sometimes unaffordable new things

Young people seen in different cars or taxis driven by unknown adults, or seeming unfamiliar with the community or where they are

Truancy, exclusion, disengagement from school

An increase in anti-social behaviour in the community