Spot ‘County Lines’ and stop the crime -and the exploitation

Somerset communities are urged to know the signs of ‘County Lines’ in a bid to stop illegal drug related criminal activity operating in their area.

A new campaign launched today by the Safer Somerset Partnership sets out what County Lines are, the signs to look out for and how to contact Crimestoppers if you believe County Lines are operating in your area.

County Lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks who export illegal drugs from one area (usually a city) into another (usually a more rural county) within the UK by using dedicated mobile phone lines or another form of “deal line”.

The criminal gangs often exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store drugs and money, and will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

Unlike most crime types, Somerset experiences County Lines more than its more urban neighbours due to its rurality, size and convenient access routes to cities.

They bring harm in all guises – from the danger of the drugs themselves, to drug debt enforcement through violence, “cuckooing,” (taking over a vulnerable person’s home for illegal drug purposes), “turf” conflict between gangs and anti-social behaviour.

Speaking on the launch of the campaign, Chair of the Safer Somerset Partnership, Avon & Somerset Constabulary Superintendent Mike Prior said, “Illegal drugs activity is nothing new, but the risk of serious violence, the sophistication of the method and the targeted exploitation of vulnerable members of our communities makes County Lines a priority area of work for the Partnership. Through the campaign, we aim at getting the community involved when it comes to identifying signs of drug related exploitative behaviour. It will not be overnight in success, but with persistence, continued partnership working and above all education we will overcome County Lines.”

A young person who is involved in County Lines activity might show some of these signs:

·         persistently going missing from school or home, or being found out-of-area

·         unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones

·         excessive receipt of texts or phone calls

·         relationships with controlling, older individuals or gang association

·         parental concerns, and leaving home or care without explanation

·         suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries

·         significant decline in school performance and changes in emotional well-being

 

Karen MacDonald, Regional Manager of West Country Crimestoppers Trust, said, “We know that the term ‘County Lines’ might not be widely recognised, which is why we are keen to be involved in this campaign and are asking for your help to support us in tackling this issue. We need help to put a stop to this exploitation and the damage that these criminals are inflicting on our communities and those being taken advantage of. We are asking you to contact us anonymously and safely through our 0800 555 111 number, or via our secure online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org – both methods are 100% anonymous. Always. Together we can put a stop to this.“

The campaign particularly aims to raise awareness about County Lines among frontline staff, like teachers and health workers, and those working in transport like taxi operators and bus and coach company staff who are most likely to encounter vulnerable young individuals who are at maximum risk of exploitation.

If you have information that will help the police investigate this crime, and wish to remain anonymous, contact www.crimestoppers-uk.org online or call 0800 555111.