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Criminal Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into any criminal activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial or other advantage of the perpetrator or facilitator and/or (c) through violence or threat of violence. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact, it can occur through the use of technology.

County Lines

‘County lines’ is a form of criminal exploitation. It is a police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. It involves child criminal exploitation (CCE) as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and VCS (voluntary and community sector) organisations. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation have a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

The national picture on county lines continues to develop but there are recorded cases of:

  • Children as young as 12 years old being exploited by gangs to courier drugs out of their local area. 15-16 years is the most common age range.
  • Both males and females being exploited.
  • White British children being targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection.
  • The use of social media to make initial contact with children and young people.
  • Vulnerable adults, including habitual class A drug users, being targeted so that gangs can takeover their homes (known as ‘cuckooing’).

HSCB has a strategic focus on county lines due to the geographical location of Hampshire, its transport links with London and the mix of rural and city conurbations.

A typical county lines scenario is defined by the following components:

  • A group (not necessarily affiliated as a gang) establishes a network between an urban hub and county location, into which drugs (primarily heroin and crack cocaine) are supplied.
  • A branded mobile phone line is established in the market, to which orders are placed by introduced customers. The line will commonly (but not exclusively) be controlled by a third party, remote from the market.
  • The group exploits young or vulnerable persons, to achieve the storage and/or supply of drugs, movement of cash proceeds and to secure the use of dwellings (commonly referred to as cuckooing).
  • The group or individuals exploited by them regularly travel between the urban hub and the county market, to replenish stock and deliver cash.
  • The group is inclined to use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms.

Home Office Materials

The Home Office is working with partners to raise awareness of county lines. They have developed a range of materials to help statutory and non-statutory staff identify victims and report concerns to protect those exploited through this criminal activity.

County Lines Posters