London gangs becoming more ruthless as they bid to take control of counties
The term ‘county lines’ has been increasingly heard in police forces around the UK. It is a criminal enterprise that has now become a business model, where drugs and money are the commodities and thousands of children work as drug mules. Dealers exploit the vulnerable and there is a worrying increase in the rise of children being used as drug mules by ‘county lines’ gangs, who are now expanding into rural areas of the UK.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimate there are more than 900 of the lines across England and Wales alone, but there is no definitive map because they cross so many traditional agency boundaries. Some of the children being reported are just 12 years old, whiles toddlers were found in homes being used by dealers.
County lines are now present in every police force area, three quarters link them to the exploitation of children and vulnerable people with mental or physical health issues. New evidence reveals a worrying increase in murders, rapes, stabbings, kidnappings and torture tactics as gangs use brutality to enforce their power over the young people they control.
According to an NCA report, county lines groups tend to use younger members of the groups to target other children through personal or social media links. They are groomed by gang members to work within the distribution network. The children targeted are usually those who are particularly vulnerable or at a crisis point in their lives.
Some, but not all the children come from a ‘stereotypical disadvantaged’ background. Several police forces have found that care homes were “actively targeted” recruiting vulnerable children. Because there are places that don’t have a lot of opportunities the children see this as a real opportunity, it is glamourous, and they are easily groomed.
According to Jo Hudek, who is evaluating the St Giles SOS case work for the Home Office told a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, the children outside of London are used now because they are probably cheaper than a London child. Local children are less likely to stand out in white working-class areas than black children trafficked from London. The Government is now looking at setting up a £3.6m National County Lines Coordination Centre as part of its new Serious Violence Strategy.