The National Crime Agency (NCA) has today published its fourth annual assessment into county lines drug supply, vulnerability and harm.
The report highlights how violence and control used by drug dealing networks is continuing, and the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults is increasing.
The number of lines has increased from 720 (as acknowledged in the 17/18 assessment) to around 2,000.
Children aged between 15-17 make up the bulk of the vulnerable people involved in county lines, and we know both girls and boys are groomed and exploited.
The grooming techniques seen as part of county lines are similar to what has been seen in child sexual exploitation and abuse, and often the young people don’t see themselves as victims. Instead they are flattered by the attention and gifts they receive, so are less likely to speak to law enforcement.
Exploitation methods continue to involve sexual abuse and exploitation, modern slavery and human trafficking, as well as the threat of violence and injury to ensure compliance. This makes the whole system approach to tackling county lines more important than ever before.
The impact of county lines covers all police force areas and organised crime threats, so law enforcement, government, charities and other organisations need to continue to work together to disrupt the criminal activity and safeguard the vulnerable.
The National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC), which is jointly led by the NCA and the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC), is responsible for mapping out the threat from county lines nationally and prioritising action against the most significant perpetrators. It provides support to front line officers and is working to deepen the partnerships with non-law enforcement organisations to enhance the wider national response.
Since its launch in September 2018, the intelligence picture around county lines has increased, as has law enforcement’s understanding of the threat.
Nikki Holland, Director of Investigations at the NCA and County Lines lead, said:
“Tackling county lines is a national law enforcement priority. We know that criminal networks use high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse to ensure compliance from the vulnerable people they employ to do the day-to-day drug supply activity.
“Every organised crime group trafficking drugs is a business which relies on cash flow. County lines is no different. What we will continue to do with our law enforcement partners is disrupt their activity and take away their assets.
“We also need to ensure that those exploited are safeguarded and understand the consequences of their involvement. This is not something law enforcement can tackle alone - the need to work together to disrupt this activity and safeguard vulnerable victims must be the priority for everyone.”
The assessment publication follows a week of coordinated law enforcement activity across the UK which resulted in over 600 arrests.
Led by police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs), activity included the execution of warrants at addresses, visits to vulnerable people including those at risk of cuckooing, and officer engagement with private hire companies and other who are being exploited by county lines networks.
Between 21 and 27 January:
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for county lines, said:
“Last week’s targeted work on county lines gangs shows how police forces across the UK are working together to dismantle these networks and protect the young and vulnerable people who are exploited by them.
“The work of the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre has resulted in more arrests and large amounts of drugs and weapons taken off our streets. This underlines the importance of our work with key partners like Public Health, Department for Education, Social Care and the charity sector.
“Tackling county lines and its consequences is a national priority for us and we will continue to do all we can to pursue and prosecute those who commit violence and exploit the vulnerable.”
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins MP, said:
“We know that by targeting the root causes of violent crime and intervening early we can help prevent young people being led down a dangerous path. This forms a crucial part of our Serious Violence Strategy.
“County Lines gangs are grooming and exploiting young people across the country and it is vital that we continue to work together to arrest the perpetrators.
“We are supporting the police and others by funding a new National County Lines Coordination Centre, which launched in September. I’m pleased that this multi-agency approach is already seeing results and is helping police forces work together to tackle a crime that transcends regional boundaries.”
Examples of activity
The South West region seized approximately £10K (street value) of crack and heroin within Gloucester. Three suspects were charged and remanded. One of these individuals resides in Essex and a search of his home address revealed two burner phones which indicate he was running lines in Great Yarmouth and Welwyn Garden City.
The Eastern region executed a warrants at addresses linked to a number of county lines. During two of the warrants, deal line phones being used across the region were recovered.
Police Scotland identified a 15-year-old missing person from Liverpool during a warrant at an address in Aberdeen. 76 wraps of crack cocaine and 22 wraps of heroin were recovered from the address.
During an armed interception of a vehicle in Plaistow, Metropolitan Police Service officers recovered a 9mm fully automatic weapon, with a loaded magazine. Both occupants, who are affiliated to a gang with links to county lines, were arrested for firearms offences.
Across South Wales, prevent work continued with leaflet drops being made in doctor’s surgeries and a rehab/drop-in centre in Aberystwyth. There were proactive visits to vulnerable persons in the South of Ceredigion being conducted by PCSOs.
Officers from the British Transport Police supported multiple disruptions for other forces during the week. In addition, three arrests were made by BTP at Macclesfield, Wolverhampton and Brighton. 70 wraps of class A were recovered from one, a knife from another and in Brighton, £1k cash and two mobile phones were seized from the third arrest.
Lancashire Police carried out prevent and protect work. Letters were sent to taxi firms, identifying the common patterns of how those involved in county lines use them and provided details for how firms can provide information to the police.
Please click pdf here (246 KB) to download a copy of the fourth annual assessment into county lines drug supply, vulnerability and harm.