Latest threat update estimates at least 720 County Lines drug dealing lines

28 November 2018

The NCA has published an update on the drug dealing model known as County Lines

It is the NCA’s third assessment of this criminal methodology, which involves networks from urban centres expanding their drug dealing activities into smaller towns and rural areas, often exploiting young or otherwise vulnerable people to do so.

Dealers will usually use a single phone line to facilitate the supply of class A drugs – primarily heroin and crack cocaine - to customers. The line becomes a recognised and valuable brand and is therefore protected with violence and intimidation.

The 2017 report brings together data from across UK law enforcement, and is the first to include returns from every police force in England and Wales, in addition to Police Scotland and British Transport Police.

Notable findings and conclusions from 2017:

  • There was evidence of County Lines activity in 88% of force returns (38 forces), while 12% of forces (5) reported no evidence. However, the NCA believes County Lines to be present in some form in all England and Wales force areas
  • 74% of forces (32) noted exploitation of vulnerable people:-
    • 37% of forces (16) reported exploitation of persons with mental health issues
    • 12% of forces (5) reported exploitation of persons with physical health issues
    • 65% of forces (28) reported that County Lines activity was linked to exploitation of children
  • Virtually all forces that reported County Lines activity also referenced that the individuals responsible were involved with carrying weapons. Knives were mentioned by 85% of forces (35) and firearms were mentioned by 74% of forces (32). However, there were no reported incidents of guns being discharged in relation to County Lines activity
  • Based on the data provided, the NCA estimates that there are at least 720 County Lines across England and Wales, although the actual figure may well be higher. Based on the data provided by forces, at least 283 of those lines will originate in London, although other urban hubs continue to emerge
  • The NCA estimates that the majority of those 720+ lines will involve the exploitation of multiple young or otherwise vulnerable people.


The NCA’s County Lines reports are commissioned to help increase understanding of the threat across law enforcement, government and sectors working with vulnerable people.

This improved understanding has led the NCA to designate County Lines a high priority vulnerability and to begin preparations for implementing a new national coordination function. The aim is to further assist police forces in identifying County Lines offending, protecting victims and pursuing the perpetrators.

Lawrence Gibbons, the NCA’s Head of Drugs Threat and Intelligence, said:

“The data tells us that County Lines groups continue to exploit the vulnerable, including children and those with mental health or addiction problems, at all points of their drug supply routes. Effective collaboration between law enforcement and safeguarding organisations must remain a vital part of the national response.

“This is the third of three planned reports on County Lines since we first identified the emergence of the threat. This year’s report is the most complete, with every territorial force in England and Wales having provided returns. There is, however, more work for all of us to do to gain the fullest possible intelligence picture.

“With policing colleagues, we are leading a new national approach on County Lines. This will not only improve that intelligence picture and assist policing partners in prioritising action, but involve direct NCA activity against crime groups engaged in serious offending.”

Duncan Ball, National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) lead on county lines said:

"County Lines has long been recognised as a serious issue by a number of police forces but this report now highlights the extent of this activity across the country. We've already been conducting operations across policing to tackle the violence associated with these lines and perhaps more significantly the real harm through the criminal exploitation of young people by organised gangs and groups.

“We've been working with police forces and partners across the country, the NCA and the Home Office to address this increasingly significant issue. We know that County Lines activity affects urban, rural and coastal communities and its impact can be felt in many areas. I wholly welcome the NCA's role in coordinating this response nationally and the ongoing work by policing across the country will continue in close collaboration with the NCA. "

 Download the 2017 County Lines document in our Publications section

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