On Wednesday 25th April, the APPG held a roundtable under Chatham House rules, bringing together MPs and experts from police, gangs teams, and child exploitation units, to examine county lines and the impact on serious violence.
“County lines” is where a group supplies drugs from an urban hub to a county location (typically a market or coastal town) involving the use of mobile phone ‘lines’. Young and vulnerable people are often exploited by the group to carry and sell the drugs, or for their homes to be used as a base for drug dealing activity.
County lines are consistently cited as a key factor driving the significant increase in knife crime outside traditional ‘hotspots’ (major cities). The National Crime Agency (NCA) found evidence of county lines activity in 88% of police forces in England and Wales, with an estimated 720 ‘lines’ in operation. The NCA note that this number is likely to be an underestimate.
Virtually all forces reporting county lines activity also reported the individuals were carrying weapons, and county lines groups ‘have a proven ability to adapt their operating methods and practices’.
Attendees discussed the extent to which county lines are thought to be responsible for increases in knife crime and youth violence in non-metropolitan areas, and the challenges of dealing with children and young people caught up in county lines. The discussion went on to cover enforcement; the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act; and how to prevent children and young people becoming involved – through prevention, early identification and intervention. Attendees reported a scarcity in specialist services and a lack of consistency in treatment, and raised concerns over the targeting of children with vulnerabilities, and the rapidly evolving nature of exploitation.