More than 1,000 children protected from ‘county lines’ exploitation

By Henry Vaughan, PA

More than 1,000 children were linked to “county lines” drug dealing over three week-long crackdowns on the crime.

The National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC) said the youngsters were among more than 2,400 vulnerable people protected in October 2018, January and May this year.

Some 131 referrals were made to the National Referral Mechanism, which identifies potential victims of human trafficking.

Over the three “intensification weeks”, 1,882 arrests were made, 403 drugs lines disrupted, £182,000 worth of drugs seized and 391 weapons, including 38 firearms, found, according to the NCLCC.

The Home-Office funded centre was set up last September by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) to target gangs exploiting children to sell drugs through so-called county lines.

The term refers to the mobile phone lines dedicated to taking orders from drug users, which are operated by criminals from big cities who have expanded into smaller towns.

Young and vulnerable people are often used to act as drug runners or have their homes taken over, or “cuckooed”, to be used as drug dens.

NPCC lead for county lines, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, said: “Since the NCLCC was set up we have made great strides in tackling and dismantling cruel county lines gangs and protecting the vulnerable people exploited by them.

“The large number of arrests and weapons seized is testament to the hard work and dedication of the centre and of officers across the country who work tirelessly to pursue and prosecute those involved.”

The NCA estimate there are currently 2,000 “deal lines” in operation.

Nikki Holland, the NCA’s county lines lead and director of investigations, said: “Thanks to the dedication of law enforcement officers over the past year since the centre launched, we have been able to target county lines networks in a co-ordinated way like never before – taking huge numbers of drugs and weapons off the streets and safeguarding those most vulnerable.”

Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire Kit Malthouse added: “County lines has a devastating impact on our communities and we are working relentlessly to disrupt these gangs and put an end to the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.”