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County lines is the name given to drug dealing where organised criminal groups (OCGs) use phone lines to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas.
They exploit vulnerable people, including children and those with mental health or addiction issues, by recruiting them to distribute the drugs. This is often referred to as ‘drug running’. Criminals may also use a vulnerable person’s home as their base of operations. This is known as ‘cuckooing’.
There are several signs to look out for that may indicate someone is involved in county lines:
Criminal networks use social media to groom and recruit children for county lines. They may send them direct messages (knowns as ‘DMs’), or share messages to wider groups as ‘stories’ or ‘posts’.
OCGs often use high levels of violence and intimidation to protect the ‘county line’ and control them. One of these forms of control exploits vulnerable people by using their home as a base for dealing drugs, a process known as cuckooing. Dealers often convince the vulnerable person to let their home be used for drug dealing by giving them free drugs or offering to pay for food or utilities.
Often OCGs target people who are lonely, isolated, or have addiction issues. It's common for OCGs to use a property for a short amount of time, moving address frequently to reduce the chance of being caught.
There are several signs to look out for that may indicate someone is a victim of cuckooing:
Children and young people involved in county lines may go missing or be out of touch for long periods. During these times, they may be at risk of harm or violence.
If you are reporting a child as missing, you should look out for signs they may be getting exploited. You should note:
You can seek additional support from Missing People's SafeCall service, which is dedicated to those impacted by county lines.
If you’re concerned about drug-related crime in your area or think someone may be a victim of drug exploitation, please call us on 101.
If it's an emergency, please call 999. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service 600660. Or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergencySMS service.
If you're in danger but you can't talk on the phone, you should still call 999, then follow these instructions depending on whether you're calling from a mobile or a landline.
You can also report it online, or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via crimestoppers-uk.org.
No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will not go to court or have to speak to police when contacting Crimestoppers.