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A County Lines network commonly involves the practice of Cuckooing.

Cuckooing can aid County Line formation by allowing gang members and traffickers to avoid detection by moving discreetly between homes that are not being monitored. Those who become trafficked under a County Lines network may be forced to transport drugs, money or weapons.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation through County Lines, when they are recruited to deliver drugs across the country. This is often achieved through threats, violence, coercion, deception, and manipulation. It can become a form of modern slavery.

The gangs usually target young people because they think it is more likely that children and teens will stay under the radar of law enforcement. Sometimes the gangs force or blackmail the victims into recruiting their friends too, which is known as peer grooming.

Is County Lines a form of modern slavery?

County Lines exploitation, in its most serious forms, can be considered a form of modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been used to prosecute County Lines exploitation cases, with the first such case taking place in December 2017. However, legal commentators have noted that the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have often struggled to bring successful County Lines prosecutions the Modern Slavery Act.

It is important to note that the nature of the exploitation and control in County Lines cases can be hard to determine. Dr Insa Koch, Associate Professor of Law and Anthropology at LSE Law School, notes that: “Even where young people’s need for safeguarding is acknowledged, professionals can continue to think of individuals in terms of rigid categories of ‘victims’ and ‘offenders’, when these distinctions are extremely difficult to draw in practice … Young people found to be modern slaves by the NRM mechanism continue to be charged by the CPS for various offences.”

The CPS has guidance on County Lines cases and does indicate that it may not be in the public interest to carry on with prosecutions involving someone found to be a victim of trafficking or slavery.

In the UK, there have been recorded cases of County Lines involving:

  • Children as young as 12 years old being exploited or moved by gangs to courier drugs out of their local area, although 15 to 16 years old is the most common age range
  • Both males and females being exploited
  • White British children being targeted because gangs think they are more likely to evade police detection; however, a person of any ethnicity or nationality may be exploited
  • Class A drug users being targeted and their addiction and desperation manipulated so that gangs can take over their homes; aka “Cuckooing

Spot the Signs of County Lines

  • Signs of drug use, alcohol abuse or other substance misuse
  • Changes in appearance
  • Residents going missing for substantial amounts of time
  • Being instructed or controlled by another individual
  • Being seen in different cars/taxis driven by unknown adults
  • Being accompanied by individuals who are older than them
  • Being seen begging in a public space
  • Indication of physical assault – bruises, scars, cuts, etc
  • Moved around often through unknown cars or regular use of taxis
  • Anti-social behaviour and becoming withdrawn
  • Significant number of people entering and leaving a property throughout the day
  • Regular changing of residents of a property
  • Seems anxious, frightened isolated or on-edge, or shows signs of a decrease in emotional wellbeing
  • Young person travelling alone, late at night or during school hours
  • Poor attendance at school or decline in academic work
  • Looking lost or in unfamiliar surroundings
  • Carrying large amounts of cash
  • Having unexplained transportation tickets/plans
  • In possession of more than one phone
  • Under the influence of drugs or alcohol

For more in-depth information on County Lines, check out this video by the National County Lines Coordination Centre.

How to report County Lines

County Lines suspicions can be reported to the police or local council. If you don’t want to speak to the police directly, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or report it to the Modern Slavery Helpline (24/7) on 08000 121 700.

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