What is county lines?

County lines is the term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to other parts of the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines.


Boy sat next to windowThe gangs are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults in order to move and store drugs and money. To do this they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

The deal line is often treated as a ‘brand’ for the gangs who generally focus on supplying Class A drugs like heroin or crack cocaine.

An operating base is an essential feature of county lines gangs. They will regularly exploit vulnerable people, by building up a debt or using threats and violence in order to take over a person’s home. This practice is commonly referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

What should you look out for?

  • A child or young person going missing from school or home or significant changes in emotional well-being?
  • A person meeting unfamiliar adults or a change to their behaviour
  • The use of drugs and alcohol
  • Acquiring money or expensive gifts they can’t account for
  • Lone children from outside of the area
  • Individuals with multiple mobile phones or tablets or ‘SIM cards’
  • Young people with more money, expensive clothing, or accessories than they can account for
  • Unknown or suspicious looking characters coming and going from a neighbour’s house
  • Relationships with controlling or older individuals or associated with gangs
  • Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries

What is cuckooing?

Cuckooing is when someone you don’t know takes over your home and uses it as a place to sell, supply or store drugs.

These people may invite other people to stay in your home without asking you, or they may bully and threaten you to leave your home.

What should you look out for?

  • People calling at a local address - often at unsociable hours
  • Suspicious vehicles or people at an address
  • A neighbour has not been seen for a while

Who is vulnerable?

A county line invariably involves the exploitation of young or vulnerable persons.

Children as young as 12-years-old have been reported to be involved but most commonly are between the ages of 15-16 year-old and are male. Children are used to deliver drugs and money between locations. They will often stay in the house that has been taken over.

Gangs may also target women who tend to be drug users or have engaged in a relationship with a gang member. They can become victims of sexual and domestic violence and can also be forced into delivering drugs or money for the gang.

Vulnerable adults who are in financial difficulties or have mental health problems are usually the most likely victims of cuckooing; they can also become the sellers of drugs on the streets.

What can the general public do?

We need your help to protect young and vulnerable people in our communities by understanding the signs outlined above and reporting anything suspicious.

To provide information or report anything suspicious,

What can professionals do?

Early identification is key to safeguarding young and vulnerable people and in identifying and tackling gang exploitation.

A collaborative, multi-agency approach is the best way for professionals to safeguard young people.

A printable poster is available to put in any public service or business locations. These can be obtained digitally or printed by emailing Public Relations.

To report

To provide information or report anything suspicious:

If you are involved or concerned about someone else please call 999 if your life or their life is in danger. 

Non Emergency Directory (NED)

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